COLUMBUS, Ohio — New ownership of lions, tigers and other dangerous animals likely would be banned in the state under proposed recommendations that would allow existing owners to keep such wildlife but require new permit rules for them, according to members of a committee studying exotic animals.
The group faces a Nov. 30 deadline to make recommendations for updating Ohio's laws. It's held expedited meetings since last month, when police were forced to kill 48 wild animals — including endangered Bengal tigers — after their owner freed them from his Zanesville farm and then committed suicide.
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets, and efforts to strengthen the regulations have taken on new urgency since farm owner Terry Thompson opened the cages and let the animals out.
Gov. John Kasich on Monday urged the group in a conference call to move swiftly on a plan that includes humane conditions for the animals, protects the public and ensures that an incident like that in Zanesville could never happen again.
The panel's recommendations are only suggestions to state officials. Its ideas would have to be drafted into legislation, heard before committees and passed by the state legislature before becoming law.
The office of state Sen. Troy Balderson, a Zanesville native, said Tuesday he intends to pursue legislation as soon as the working group makes its recommendations.
The group likely will recommend the state bar the sale, trade and purchase of exotic animals, Debbie Leahy, a captive wildlife regulatory specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Should the recommendations become law, it would be illegal for Ohio residents to own the restricted animals if they didn't already have them.
Details of the committee's consensus on the new ownership ban were first reported by The Columbus Dispatch.
Not all the 10 stakeholders' organizations in the working group are on the same page.
Animal owners fear some of the recommendations could be overreaching, while animal protection groups don't agree with all the proposed carveouts for some private owners.
Leahy said the Humane Society takes issue with an exemption that allows facilities accredited by the Zoological Association of America to have animals because they don't adhere to the same breeding rules of zoos.
"It's going to weaken any law that they finalize," Leahy said. "They're part of the problem."
Current owners would face restrictions on breeding under proposed recommendations, other members said. The owners would be required to post signs alerting people there are dangerous animals on their properties. They would have to tag their animals with microchips, brands or tattoos that would allow officials or others to identify them.
The committee likely will recommend new fines for people who don't post signs and don't have their ownership information attached to their animals. It also will suggest new penalties for those who knowingly release animals or fail to report their animals have escaped.
The group's recommendations likely will let owners who have venomous snakes, big cats and certain monkeys keep them for the lives of the animals, but they will have to get three-year permits from the state, said Polly Britton, a lobbyist for the Ohio Association of Animal Owners.
To get a permit, the current owners would have to meet new standards for how the animals are caged and cared for, said Britton, who has been a part of the committee meetings since June.
Britton said the association was disappointed the working group didn't offer an exemption on state permits for those who are already federally licensed.Comment on this story
She also fears the proposed rules would force certain animal parks to shut down and put small business owners out of jobs.
"I don't think the governor realizes the far-reaching effects of this," Britton said.
Kasich has put in place temporary measures to better enforce existing laws while the tougher laws are written this fall. His spokesman Rob Nichols said the working group was "95 percent of the way there" with its framework.
The panel has been meeting privately since June. It plans a final conference call before Monday to finalize its suggestions.