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Ohio Bill Would Ban Exotic Animals As Pets


It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

For the most part, of course, what you do at home is your business. But a tragedy in Ohio has authorities legislating the question of which animals people keep at home. An Ohio TV station, NewsChannel5, was on the story last week.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Our other top story Live on Five: Five exotic animals were returned to a farm in Zanesville.

INSKEEP: Zanesville is in southeast Ohio, and the five animals are two leopards, two primates and one brown bear.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Last fall, you remember, their owner released them, along with dozens of his exotic pets, before committing suicide.

INSKEEP: That owner was Terry Thompson. Thompson's widow, Marian Thompson, was just reunited with her animals - against the wishes of Ohio authorities. The case has state legislators asking if anybody really wants to have a bear next door. Here's NPR's Rachel Ward.

RACHEL WARD, BYLINE: Exotic animals are already restricted in many states. But when Terry Thompson let some 50 wild animals loose, it prompted Ohio officials to act quickly. There's a bill in progress that has passed the state Senate, and now the state's House of Representatives is considering it.

DALE SCHMIDT: You can't have a black-tailed deer as a pet, but you could have a tiger.

WARD: Dale Schmidt is the president of the Columbus Zoo. The zoo has been caring for Thompson's surviving animals. Schmidt also advised on the legislation. It would ban dozens of animals and exotic animal auctions.

SCHMIDT: Just like you go to livestock auction, well, they do livestock and then next thing you know, they're bringing out a baby tiger or a baby lion or, you know, a snake.

WARD: It's not just about banning animals. It's about regulating them. Owners would have to apply for permits for existing animals. They'd have to put up signs warning visitors about their pets. And poisonous snake owners would have to stock anti-venom in case of bites. To Columbus, Ohio reptile breeder Terry Wilkins, the new rules spell disaster.

TERRY WILKINS: We have about 15 employees. They'd lose their jobs.

WARD: Wilkins makes his living breeding, selling and trading captive-born snakes and lizards.

WILKINS: Oh, I've been keeping reptiles since I was a little kid. In my upbringing, a reptile is no different than a cat, a bird or a dog.

WARD: He says the law would have an economic impact not just on him, but on the businesses that supply him. Take, for example, a supplier that sells to a bait store.

WILKINS: On the average, that bait store might sell maybe a box of crickets a month, which is about a thousand crickets. Now, imagine when I called my first supplier and told him I needed 20,000 crickets a week.

WARD: Wilkins may end up challenging the law in court. He says we need to protect species so endangered that they no longer exist outside of captivity. But others say fondness for animals can cause enthusiasts to overlook safety.

NATHAN NOBIS: I guess this kind of happens with people-to-people relationships.

WARD: Nathan Nobis teaches bioethics at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

NOBIS: You know, you could develop a fondness for somebody and become so convinced they would never do anything bad in any sort of way.

WARD: But, Nobis argues, just like people, animals can change and become dangerous. Plus, it's expensive to care for these animals in the right way. A tiger eats 16 pounds of food a day. Exotic animal enthusiasts agree about the need to care for these animals properly. But they point out that if the exotic animal legislation passes, it would take Ohio from being one of the most lenient states in the nation to one of the most restrictive.

Rachel Ward, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Ward joined NPR's Morning Edition in 2012. She works as a producer and coordinates coverage across shifts. She previously served as the founding editor of the Innovation Trail, a collaborative reporting project on the economy of upstate New York. Ward has covered business and the economy for WXXI in Rochester, N.Y., and has hosted broadcasts at WXXI, WOUB in Athens, Ohio, and WRUW in Cleveland, Ohio. She has an M.A. from Ohio University's Scripps College of Communication.