Why a wandering wallaby is no laughing matter

The press release from the Pennsylvania Game Commission was an attention grabber titled, "Is anyone missing a wallaby? 

Seems game officers on Wednesday had rounded up the kangaroo-like animal found wandering on a road in Cambridge Springs in northwestern Pennsylvania. The wallaby was tranquilized and taken to a licensed wildlife facility.

But the fact is, this marsupial native to Australia was in Pennsylvania illegally. Anyone keeping exotic animal must have a state permit and none of the handful of folks who have permits reported a missing wallaby, game commission officials said.

"While there are several wallabies listed for menagerie permit holders, there are no individual exotic wildlife possession or exotic wildlife dealer permit holders who have a wallaby," said Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser.

But Ohio, just 30 miles west of where the wallaby was found is a different story, said Feaser, who offered that the wallaby could have roamed across the border.

Ohio is a mecca for the wild animal trade where all manner of exotics are sold off at public auctions and laws are virtually non-existent.

That changed after an Ohio man with a huge menagerie of wild animals opened their cages and killed himself last Ohio. Law enforcement officials, fearing for public safety, were forced to shoot dozens of the 56 animals that were set loose, including 18 rare Bengal tigers.

That tragedy spurred calls for tougher laws aimed at barring ownership of such animals in Ohio. A bill awaiting Ohio Gov. John Kasich's signature would restrict ownership of various wild animals such as exotic cats, monkeys and snakes. It would also require current owners to get be licensed and insured. 

But the wallaby incident is reason Pennsylvania should swiftly enact an even stricter measure to outright ban private ownership of exotics, said Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania director of the Humane Society of the United States.

"This tragedy sheds light on the incredible holes in current law that allow dangerous wild animals to be kept in substandard conditions and do not require any neighborhood or law enforcement notification of the presence of the animal," said Speed. "House Bill 1398 currently awaiting Pennsylvania Senate action to ban the practice of keeping dangerous wild animals as pets and is an important first step to protecting Pennsylvanians and the animals."

 Anyone with information on the Crawford County wallaby is being asked to call the Game Commission’s Northwest Region Office at 814-432-3187.