The Ohio Exotic Pet Ban: What Animals Are Now Illegal as Pets?
How the Ohio Zoo Massacre Contributed to the Ban
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 Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act had widespread approval and was passed by the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in a 87–9 vote (the previous S.B. 310 was approved by the committee and was sent to the Senate floor for a vote, passing in the Ohio Senate 30–1; it was later signed into law by Governor Kasich).
People Who Owned Banned Animals Before the Law Change
If you lived in the state of Ohio and possessed a "restricted species," you could acquire a permit for the animal(s) by 2014, but there was a catch:
- You were required to meet strict new regulations including registration.
- You were required to obtain expensive liability insurance coverage (a one million dollar insurance policy was required of those that possessed a restricted species for educational purposes) and facility standards were enforced.
- The registered animal had to be microchipped.
Owners who could not meet these new standards had to find new homes for their pets or turn them into the state. No new animals could be purchased when the ban took effect on January 1, 2014. As of 2018, years after the ban was enforced, many owners were forced to give up their animals (some euthanized).
Animals That Are Banned as Pets (Excluding Zoos and Sanctuaries)
The following animals are banned as "pets" with the exception of zoos and sanctuaries:
- 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: cheetahs; lynxes (including Canadian lynxes), Eurasian lynxes, and Iberian lynxes; cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions; caracals; 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.
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 species, 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 buffaloes, Komodo dragons). Elephants tend to be owned privately for exhibition purposes. Dwarf caimans are smaller crocodilians that are in the reptile trade and I believe 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.
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:
d) Boomslang snakes
e) 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 rare with negligent handling often being a factor.
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 which only needs to be approved by the General Assembly.
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 likely do not pose any kind of threat to "public safety" such as smaller cats and nonhuman primates. Cases of these animals spreading viruses and disease to the public in pet-owning situations 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 could 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 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 content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.