Where the wild things are: Ohio scare focuses attention on large, fierce animals kept as pets
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Most pet owners stick to dogs, cats, birds or lizards. Others own horses, ferrets, guinea pigs or rodents. But some people with rural land, money and offbeat tastes collect larger, wilder, more exotic creatures. That was the hobby of an eastern Ohio game preserve owner who caused panic and a sad outcome last week by releasing 56 dangerous animals before taking his own life amid legal and tax problems. The roaming menagerie, purchased legally at auctions, included 17 lions, wolves, bears, leopards, monkeys and 18 Bengal tigers, an endangered species.
Law enforcers brought three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys to the Columbus Zoo after darting them with tranquilizers (sleep medication), but four dozen others were fatally shot by sheriff's deputies to protect residents as night approached. Animal lovers and advocacy groups around the country were saddened, through most accepted the need for swift, drastic action. "How many small towns in the Midwest anticipate having tigers on Main Street and stock the equipment to capture them alive?" author Susan Orlean wrote in the New Yorker magazine. "I love wild animals, but if I knew there might be a bear in my backyard, I would understand that it might need to be killed.
Ohio and just seven other states don't ban wild animal ownership. "Ohio has a particularly bad record when it comes to exotics," says Will Travers, head of Born Free USA, a nonprofit group opposing exotic pet sales. A day after the Oct. 19 trouble, two Ohio legislators proposed sharp restrictions -- a move backed Friday by the governor, who called for a temporary moratorium on the sale of dangerous wild beasts as a first step.
Sheriff says: "We could not have animals running loose in this county. We could not have that. . . . These are 300-pound Bengal tigers that we had to put down." -- Matt Lutz of Muskingum County, Ohio
Author says: "We ought to be able to agree on a list of animals that historically do not cohabitate with humans and pose such a threat that they must be caged. . . . It's past time to regulate the wild beasts: us." -- Professor Peter Laufer, University of Oregon author of three books about animals
Ohio legislator says: "Most private citizens do not have the proper training or resources to take care of wild animals . . . which poses a danger to themselves as well as other community members." -- State Rep. Debbie Phillips.
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