The Ohio Exotic Pet Ban: What Animals Are Now Illegal as Pets?
The Zanesville, Ohio, 'Zoo Massacre', which ended with the deaths of 18 tigers, 17 lions, 6 black bears, 2 grizzly bears, 3 mountain lions, 2 wolves and a baboon after they were allegedly set free by their suicidal owner Terry Thompson, sent legislators into a frenzy to amend previous bills that were said to be far too lenient on what exotic pets could be legally owned in Ohio.
Prior to the incident, Governor Kasich's task force, which was composed of organizations like the HSUS and the American Zoological Association, originally were examining the state's lack of regulations when the Zanesville incident propelled the issue into the spotlight and largely contributed to the support of the finished bill.
The new Dangerous Wild Animal Bill had widespread approval and was passed by the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in a 87-9 vote (the previous Senate Sub-Bill 310 was approved by the committee and was sent to the Senate floor for a vote, passing the Ohio Senate 30-1). Governor Kasich is expected to sign SB 310's exotic pet ban into a law soon.
People Who Owned Banned Animals Before the Law Change
If you live in the state of Ohio and possess a 'restricted species', you can acquire a permit for the animal(s) by 2014, but there's a catch: you must meet strict new regulations including registration, expensive liability insurance coverage (a 1 million dollar insurance policy is required of those that possess a restricted species for educational purposes) and facility standards are enforced. The registered animal must also be microchipped. Owners who cannot meet these new standards have to find new homes for their pets or turn them into the state where they will likely be euthanized. No new animals may be purchased once the ban takes effect on January 1, 2014.
As of 2018, years after the ban was enforced, many owners were forced to give up their animals.
Animals That Are Banned as Pets (Excluding Zoos and Sanctuaries)
The following animals are banned as 'pets' with the exception of zoos and sanctuaries (I have bolded animals that obviously pose little or no danger to the public, and/or are popularly kept):
- Gray wolves, excluding hybrids
- Leopards, including clouded leopards, Sunda clouded leopards, and snow leopards
- All of the following, including hybrids with domestic cats unless otherwise specified: a) Cheetahs; b) Lynxes, including Canadian lynxes, Eurasian lynxes, and Iberian lynxes; c) Cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions; d) Caracals; e) Servals, excluding hybrids with domestic cats commonly known as Savannah cats.
- Cape buffaloes
- African wild dogs
- Komodo dragons
- Caimans, excluding dwarf caimans
- Nonhuman primates other than lemurs and the nonhuman primates specified in division (C)(20) of this section
- All of the following nonhuman primates:
- a) Golden lion, black-faced lion, golden-rumped lion, cotton-top, emperor, saddlebacked, black-mantled, and Geoffroy's tamarins
- b) Southern and northern night monkeys
- c) Dusky titi and masked titi monkeys
- d) Muriquis
- e) Goeldi's monkeys
- f) White-faced, black-bearded, white-nose bearded, and monk sakis
- g) Bald and black uakaris
- h) Black-handed, white-bellied, brown-headed, and black spider monkeys
- i) Common woolly monkeys
- j) Red, black, and mantled howler monkeys.
Many states, unfortunately, include domestic pet breeds such as Savannah cats and all wolfdogs regardless of percentage, so it is nice that these animals are not included in the ban. While large carnivores should be regulated with common sense legislation, an outright ban is unfair. Many people have the money, space, and experience to successfully own larger carnivores. Medium-sized carnivores such as lynxes, servals, and caracals pose no more threat in society than similarly-sized domestic dogs (and in many cases, less).
Primates and Nonhuman Primate Bans
Many of the monkeys on the list are smaller, so it is confusing why they are specifically banned while even lemurs are not. Also, the code in section 20 is confusing because it appears that primates that are not named on the list are unregulated. Ohio strangely bans many primates, including small ones, but allows a few species such as marmosets and lemurs with the requirement that the owner registers them.
Species That Are Not Represented in the Pet Trade
Many of the above species are typically not owned as pets or are non-existent in the pet trade (rhinoceros, hippos, cape buffalo, Komodo dragon). Elephants tend to be owned privately for exhibition purposes. Dwarf caimans are smaller crocodilians that are in the reptile trade and pose no threat to public safety. Other large crocodilians present more danger to the owner but with a little research and experience, even this risk is not high.
- How to Care for a Pet Tiger
I often hear the phrase 'backyard tiger' used negatively, and it is used to inspire legislators to ban exotic pets. Tigers and big cats clearly do not make suitable 'pets' for most people, but with this article, I hope to dispel the myth.
Restricted Snakes and Snakes That Are Permitted
Section L addresses 'restricted snakes' which means any of the following (legal only with a permit over the length of 12 feet after 2014).
1. The following constricting snakes are twelve feet or longer:
a) Green anacondas
b) Yellow anacondas
c) Reticulated pythons
d) Indian pythons
e) Burmese pythons
f) North African rock pythons
g) South African rock pythons
h) Amethystine pythons
2. Species of the following families:
3) Boomslang snakes
4) Twig snakes
The threat of 'constricting snakes' is largely exaggerated. States that ban certain reptiles almost always name the largest members of the python family as prohibited. Fatalities from these species, however, are very rare; about 1-2 cases per year with negligent handling often being a factor.
Opinions on the Snake Ban
Burmese Pythons: A Popular Pet Reptile
Is This Bill Fair?
The strong support of this bill by legislators and the public is the result of the actions of a single individual. In addition to any animals currently listed, additional animals can be added based on a decision made by the Director of ODA that only needs to be approved by the General Assembly.
It should be noted that most of the animals listed are rarely or never kept as 'pets'. The list includes many highly advanced 'pets' that should never be kept by a typical person (however, the few exceptions to this rule should be granted the opportunity to state their situation and privately own a 'restricted species' without being a zoo or so-called sanctuary).
However, the list includes a few species that clearly do not pose any kind of threat to 'public safety' such as the smaller cats and non-human primates. Cases of these animals spreading disease to the public in a pet-owning situation in recent history are non-existent.
Also not given any consideration is the fact that domesticated animals could easily cause similar, or worse damage than these unfairly stigmatized animals. It is obvious that in time, more non-threatening species will make their way on to this list due to ignorance, and these bans will spread to other states that haven't enforced them already. The ban will inevitably affect smaller businesses such as those that present animals for educational purposes and will force many owners to give up their animals.
Such inflexible bans on the rights of the population should be considered as a last option, and this ordinance is far from necessary. Animal ownership is not being taken seriously as pertinent to the livelihoods of pet keepers by Ohio's legislators. Clearly this new law, having been empowered by a single incident caused by one allegedly irresponsible or mentally ill individual is not a valid reason to end lifestyles, businesses, and freedom of choice.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.