By Marc Kovac
A state group appointed by Gov. John Kasich wants the “casual ownership” of dangerous wild animals, such as black bears, grey wolves and hippopotamuses, to be banned in Ohio as of 2014.
The group, which filed its final report on the issue with the governor and lawmakers Wednesday, also wants current owners to register and meet fencing and other animal-care standards in advance of the new statewide ban.
“We need to know where these animals are,” Laura Jones, spokeswoman of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, told reporters during a conference call earlier this week.
The final report outlines recommendations for dealing with animal ownership. Lawmakers will have to move on legislation to codify the changes.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols added in a released statement, “We’re studying the details and reserve the right to seek minor changes, but the governor is looking forward to working with the general assembly to see enforceable laws enacted quickly.”
Sen. Troy Balderson, a Republican from Zanesville, is expected to be the primary sponsor of the legislation on the issue. Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican from New Richmond, said he expected a bill introduction and committee hearings in coming weeks.
Niehaus also said he supported licensing and other recommendations, but he said he was concerned about the possibility of the state confiscating animals from current owners.
“I want to make sure we’re not doing some things that are too much of a reach. ... If [animals are] being well taken care of, if they’re being housed properly, if they’re not posing a danger to others, I think we have to ask questions about whether its appropriate to remove those animals,” Niehaus said, adding he does support the ban.
ODNR Director Jim Zehringer and interim Department of Agriculture Director Tony Forshey said current owners of dangerous wild animals would be required to register with the state within 60 days of the new law taking effect and be required to meet perimeter fencing, animal care and other requirements.
Zehringer said state officials would work with zoos, sanctuaries and other permitted facilities to find homes for banned animals as of January 2014.
Ohio was thrust into the national spotlight in October after the troubled owner of dozens of bears, lions, tigers and other wild animals released them from their cages on his Zanesville property and then committed suicide.
Sheriff’s deputies were forced to kill dozens of the animals to prevent them from escaping into surrounding communities.