Last fall, a shocking massacre in Zanesville thrust Ohio into the national spotlight when local law enforcement killed 48 escaped exotic animals to protect public order. The tragedy occurred after the private owner of an exotic animal sanctuary freed the animals before taking his own life. Flooded with calls from neighbors, the Muskingum County sheriff’s department had no choice but to hunt down the free-roaming wild animals.

The animal sanctuary had been cited and fined for numerous violations prior to this incident, but this dangerous “wild kingdom” in rural Ohio was perfectly legal at the time. The Zanesville incident made it abundantly clear that Ohio legislators needed to act to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again.

In response, State Senator Troy Balderson of Zanesville sponsored Senate Bill 310. The bill was intended to critically examine private ownership of wild animals, and evaluate how the safety of all Ohioans is affected. The House and Senate collaborated in a bipartisan effort to formulate the bill and put an end to unregulated, unsafe exotic animal ownership.

Representative Dave Hall chaired the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, holding hours of testimony from interested parties to effectively update the law. In doing so, the General Assembly gained new perspectives, including those of animal owners and wildlife experts like Jack Hanna, Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo. In its final form, Senate Bill 310 protects individual rights, while fully addressing public safety concerns.

Since the law was passed in early June, many important upgrades are being implemented. Now exotic animal owners must register their animals with the Department of Agriculture. Beginning in 2014, persons will be prohibited from possessing specified exotic animals without the appropriate permits.

Often, unexpected events such as the Zanesville incident bring matters to light that are otherwise overlooked. Though no one would ever wish for this to happen, we can take it as a valuable learning opportunity. It is my hope that in passing this law, the Ohio General Assembly has helped protect both the safety and liberty of Ohioans.


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