HSUS blames Ohio governor for not halting wild animal operator

Investigators look around a barn on a wild-animal preserve Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, in Zanesville, Ohio. Police with assault rifles stalked a mountain lion, grizzly bear and monkey still on the loose after authorities said their owner apparently freed dozens of wild animals and then killed himself. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

With wild animals still on the loose in southeastern Ohio, animal welfare advocates are pointing the finger of blame at Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

The Humane Society of the United States said today Kasich allowed the expiration of an emergency order forbidding the preserve's owner - a convicted animal abuser - from operating.

After about 50 wild animals such as lions, bears and wolves escaped the home of Terry Thompson of Zanesville, with dozens already killed by authorities,

Authorities say Thompson let the animals loose and then committed suicide.

Ohio has some of the weakest laws governing exotic pet trade; it is one of fewer than 10 states that does not regulate exhibitors, it allowing the auction of wild animals and dozens of exhibitors to operate. Since 2003 the HSUS has documented 23 incidents involving attacks by captive wild animals in Ohio that have included a fatal mauling of a man by a black bear in Lorain County last year.

Wild animal keepers are supposed to have an exhibitor license issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but Thompson for unknown reasons was not licensed.

The HSUS is calling on state officials to issue an emergency rule to crack down on keeping dangerous exotics until the Ohio Department of Natural Resources or the Legislature can adopt a permanent legal solution.

According to HSUS:

A previous emergency order issued by former Gov. Ted Strickland, which expired in April, prohibited people convicted of animal cruelty from owning exotic animals. Terry Thompson, found dead on his Zanesville property, had been convicted of animal cruelty in 2005, and would almost certainly have had his animals removed by May 1, 2011, if the emergency order had not expired.

The Kasich Administration has convened a stakeholder group to develop standards, including The HSUS, but immediate interim action is required given the public health and animal cruelty concerns. Ohio law authorizes the DNR to regulate the ownership of wild animals, and the governor has broad constitutional authority to issue emergency orders to protect public health and safety.

HSUS president Wayne Pacelle decried the failure of the state to protect animals and its citizenry by allowing unfit - and in some cases unlicensed - operators to continue.

“Every month brings a new, bizarre, almost surreal incident involving privately held dangerous wild animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “In recent years, Ohioans have died and suffered injuries because the state hasn’t stopped private citizens from keeping dangerous wild animals as pets or as roadside attractions. Owners of large, exotic animals are a menace to society, and it’s time for the delaying on the rulemaking to end.”

The previous emergency order had banned the sale and acquisition of certain dangerous exotic animals such as bears, big cats, primates, wolves and large constrictor and venomous snakes, but grandfathered in existing owners, as long as they registered with the state by May 1, 2011, and had not been “convicted of an offense involving the abuse or neglect of any animal pursuant to any state, local, or federal law.” Thompson was convicted in December 2005 on one count of having an animal at large, two counts of rendering animal waste without a license, one count of cruelty to animals.