Ohio Officials Debate Exotic Animal Inspections

Officials at the Ohio Department of Agriculture and local law enforcement officers in Zainesville, Ohio, are debating which agencies possess regulatory power in the wake of last year’s mass escape of over 50 exotic animals.

Last October, the owner of a Zainesville, Ohio animal preserve set 56 of his exotic animals free before committing suicide. The owner left no note and left no clue or explanation for his behavior. The animals released included 18 tigers, 6 black bears, and several lions. Of the 56 animals, 48 were killed by local law enforcement. The remaining 18 were successfully captured and have been held in quarantine at the Columbus Zoo.

Having discovered no signs of dangerous, contagious, or infectious diseases or illnesses, the zoo is prepared to release the animals, likely to the care of Marian Thompson, the current owner of the animal farm in question.

The potential return of several dangerous animals has sparked a contentious debate over exotic animal ownership and the limits of the state Department of Agriculture’s regulatory power. A spokesperson for the department recently stated, “Current law gives enforcement powers to local authorities, not the state. While repeated appeals have been made to local authorities to seek a court order to inspect the Thompson party to ensure the safety of the animals and the public, so far, no action has been taken.”

Local law enforcement, however, claim that their hands are also tied by state law. Muskingum County Sherriff Matt Lutz stated that, without a series of legal reforms in the state, his office has no power to inspect the farm or regulate its behavior. “There was nothing I could do about those animals before Oct. 18, and there’s nothing I can do about them today,” Lutz stated.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer