COLUMBUS — Owners of exotic animals in Ohio must soon start registering their creatures with the state once a new law takes effect on Wednesday.
The state’s restrictions on exotic pets have been among the nation’s weakest.
Efforts to strengthen the law took on new urgency after owner Terry Thompson released 50 animals, including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers, from his eastern Ohio farm in Zanesville last October, then committed suicide.
Authorities killed 48 of the animals as a public safety measure. Two others were believed to have been eaten by other animals.
Here’s a look at Ohio’s new law:
Rules for owners
Ohioans will be banned from buying, selling, trading or transferring ownership of the exotic creatures as soon as the law takes effect on Wednesday.
Current owners can keep their creatures but must obtain a new state-issued wildlife shelter permit by Jan. 1, 2014. They must pass a background check, pay fees, obtain liability insurance or surety bonds, and show inspectors that they can properly contain the animal and care for it. Owners must also have a microchip inserted into their dangerous animals so they can be identified if they get lost or escape. The animals have to be registered with the state by Nov. 5. Owners have to post signs on their property to alert people there are dangerous animals on the premises.
If owners are denied permits or can’t meet the new requirements, the state can seize the animals.
The law defines “dangerous wild animals” as hyenas, elephants, lions, tigers, jaguars, gray wolves, leopards, bears, cheetahs, alligators, crocodiles, Komodo dragons, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and large primates, such as gorillas and baboons, along with others.
The new rules won’t apply to certain owners and animals. For instance, owners of smaller monkeys, such as certain marmosets or capuchins, will only have to register the primate but won’t need a state-issued permit. Facilities accredited by some national zoo groups also will be exempt from the law, as are sanctuaries, circuses and research institutions.
Owners of venomous and constricting snakes will face new rules. The law creates a category of restricted snakes that includes anacondas, pythons, constricting snakes that are 12 feet or longer and other specified venomous snakes.
Permits and fees
Permits for bears, tigers and other dangerous animals will begin at $250 and could be more than $1,000, depending on the number of animals. Owners could start applying for permits with the agriculture department by Oct. 1, 2013. Insurance policies for the creatures could range from $200,000 to as high as $1 million, depending on the number of animals.
Estimated costs for the first year of the program are $600,000 to $720,000. The Legislature set aside $500,000 to help with the startup costs. Gov. John Kasich’s administration hopes to help pay for it with permit fees from owners. Ohio officials also want to spend $3.5 million build a state facility that would temporarily house potentially dozens of exotic animals confiscated under the law. The state Controlling Board, which handles certain adjustments to the state budget, would have to approve the request for the money.