A 2011 tragedy in Zanesville, Ohio, that resulted in 49 escaped exotic animals being killed by law enforcement officials after they were set free by their owner, brought problems with exotic animal ownership into the national spotlight. That unfortunate incident was only one of many involving escapes and deaths.
Now, lawmakers in West Virginia are considering whether to ban private ownership of exotic animals in the state in an effort to protect both animals and people from issues associated with keeping dangerous animals as pets.
According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), there have been nearly 1,200 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats, bears, primates and large constrictor snakes nationwide. These incidents have resulted in 40 human deaths, including eight children, and more than 650 injuries since 1990.
Last year, lawmakers in the state passed a bill that would have banned the private possession of dangerous animals and created a board to decide which animals should be included, but it was vetoed by Governor Ray Tomblin who reportedly opposed it because of the expenses it would have incurred.
Now the state remains only one of five with no regulations concerning exotic animals, which officials still believe is a problem. Others worry the lax laws will lead to more people coming in with exotics to escape bans in other states. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, no laws mean wildlife officials in the state have no idea what type or how many exotic animals are in the state, but they’ve had escapes in the past — including alligators, a water buffalo and a lion, among others.
“We’ve had tigers, lions, and bears to escape never to be caught again or to be shot,” said Summer Wyatt, director of HSUS West Virginia. “There are multiple stories of alligators getting out and not just getting out, but being abandoned because when they get to [sic] large they are left in a waterway.”
No laws also mean there’s no way to restrict buying or breeding exotic animals, or to protect them and ensure that they’re getting proper care and being housed in appropriate enclosures. Even with enclosures that are as escape-proof as they can be, the unnatural conditions in which exotics are kept also raise serious welfare concerns. Due to their very nature, even if they were born in captivity and hand-raised, they still have their instincts and innate needs that can’t be provided for in most private settings.
Because of their nature as wild animals and serious problems associated with keeping them as pets, including their potential to spread diseases to humans, a number of organizations including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Animal Control Association, the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association have all come out in opposition to private ownership of exotic species.
Now West Virginia’s Division of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and Bureau of Public Health are working together to create legislation they hope to get passed during the next legislative session.
If they’re successful this time around, the new law would create a Dangerous Wild Animal Control Board to regulate and ban certain species. Those who already own a dangerous exotic animal would be grandfathered in and allowed to keep them, as long as they register their animals and meet safety requirements. According to Wyatt, it will also help ensure proper housing and veterinary care, in addition to ensuring owners have a plan in place for what they will do with their animals in the event of a natural disaster or other problems.
Please sign and share the petition urging West Virginia lawmakers to ban exotic animals as pets.
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