Rochester, N.Y.—The escape of more than 50 potentially dangerous animals from a Zanesville, Ohio animal preserve is bringing attention to state laws about exotic animals.
Muskingum County Sheriff's deputies were forced to kill 18 tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, two wolves-- among other animals that were set loose by their owner before he apparently committed suicide.
Exotic animals are not illegal to own in Ohio.
“Ohio is like the wild west when it comes to owning exotic animals,” says Tom Hudak, a local area wildlife expert.
In contrast, Hudak says New York state has one of the toughest laws regarding the buying, selling and breeding of exotic pets.
In New York it’s illegal to own a non-domesticated cat or canine, crocodile, primate, bear or venomous reptiles.
The ban came about after police found a tiger and alligator living in a New York City apartment. The law went into effect in 2005.
However, there are some exceptions to the rule.
For example, Mike Balderston owns a spider monkey named Maggie who lives in his home. He has a state and federal license in order to keep her and also has to use Maggie for educational purposes. He does so through the Wildlife Educators Coalition. The group introduces wild animals to children and people with special needs.
Balderston says he adopted Maggie from an out-of-state couple who had recently divorced and couldn’t care for her any more.
While owning an exotic pet sounds unique and interesting, Balderston says wild animals are not meant to be pets.
“You don't want these animals as a pet,” he says. “Everyone thinks it's great to have a monkey as a pet. It's not. It's a lot of work and a lot of commitment and a lot of people couldn’t handle it.”
Balderston says he’s glad New York state does have strict laws forbidding people from owning these animals.
“Ultimately the stricter rules protect the animals,” he says. “I can't think of a single incident where it's the animals fault. Maggie didn't decide to be born into the pet trade. None of the animals decided to be born in the situation they were in.”
He says the same goes for the 56 animals that were shot and killed in Ohio. Balderston says they never should have been at the preserve anyways.
“They didn't choose any of this. I don't know the owner’s deal was and why this transpired, but it's definitely not the animals’ fault. But of course, they suffered because of it.”
Hudak says he believes the political season and recent events in Zanesville will drive Ohio lawmakers to push for stricter laws on exotic pets.
Many animals rights groups have already blasted lawmakers for being lax on the issue.