COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law on Tuesday new state restrictions on the ownership of exotic animals following the slaughter last year of dozens of wild animals freed by a man before he committed suicide.
Until now, Ohio had no restriction on the ownership of exotic animals such as the lions, tigers, leopards, monkeys and bears Terry Thompson released from his farm near Zanesville last October.
In the surreal, tragic incident, authorities gunned down most of the 56 animals in a shoot-to-kill hunt through Ohio farmland after finding Thompson dead and numerous empty cages.
In all, forty-nine of the animals were shot dead, one was presumed eaten by another and the other six were taken to the Columbus Zoo, where a leopard later died. Last month, the zoo was forced to hand back the five surviving animals - a spotted leopard, a black leopard, a brown bear and two Celebes macaque monkeys - to Thompson’s widow, Marian.
Ohio was one of a handful of states with no restriction on the ownership of wild, exotic animals and local officials have been pressing for new rules ever since. The law, signed by the governor on Tuesday, was approved by lawmakers last month.
Kasich said Ohio officials found the lack of rules governing exotic animal ownership in the state was a problem beyond the county where Thompson had his farm.
“Ohio really was the Wild, Wild West,” Kasich told a news conference. “We had virtually no rules and no regulations in terms of all this.”
The law, which takes effect on September 3, bans new ownership of some animals like big cats, bears, and some reptiles. Current owners may keep the animals if they meet conditions that include obtaining state permits, carrying liability insurance and having certain types of cages.
Attempts to craft legislation to restrict ownership of the animals drew criticism from private owners as too tough and from animal rights activists as too weak.
In the end, lawmakers compromised by removing some species of small monkeys and lemurs from the restricted list, and reducing the amount of insurance a private owner must carry.
Joe Schreibvogel, president of the United States Zoological Association, said he and other opponents of the law planned to file a legal challenge.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, supported the law and said he hoped the Ohio incident would serve as a warning to states that have few rules protecting exotic animals and public safety.
Reporting by Jo Ingles; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Sandra Maler