Exotic animals

Last week the state of Ohio made international headlines when Terry Thompson took his life after setting loose dozens of exotic animals including tigers, lions, bears and primates — the majority of which were killed rather than captured.

It was unfortunate that these beautiful creatures had to be killed, but I side with the officers involved who said it would have been dangerous to try and sedate the animals.

As wildlife expert Jack Hanna has stated numerous times, tranquillizing the animals would require knowing the animal’s weight — as any human would if they needed anesthesia for a surgery — and to sedate the animal effectively a specific muscle group must be hit with the tranquilizer dart.

“When we tranquilize animals at the zoo, we have to plan it for several weeks. We have to find out how much it weighs, has it eaten, how much medicine to put in it,” Hanna told TV10.com

In light of this tragedy I find it fascinating that regulations vary state to state regarding sale and ownership of these animals. But as the world now knows, if you want something exotic go to Ohio. You may not even need to register the animal!

Are you looking for a tiger? I know I secretly am.

It’s as easy as punching “Ohio animal auction” into Google; you can find a number of sites that have postings of animals for sale or have dates for upcoming auctions. I have found several sites that have auctions for the first week of November, which include regular live stock sales (pigs, horses and cattle) and “alternative livestock sales,” including big cats as well as smaller exotic animals.

You name it, and someone has got the exotic animal of your choice and is selling it for a profit. But why?

I guess they represent a rare and fascinating opportunity to interact with something you would typically have to go to a zoo or travel to a different country to see.

Sometime in the last few hundred years possession of these exotic animals became commodified and the ownership became a status symbol. Perhaps this was during the time of world exploration, when travelers may have brought home animals for research or simply to show off. Maybe it’s the modern equivalent of big-game hunting. Who knows, but when you have supply and demand a market usually follows suit.

For example, in the 1960s and ’70s it was hugely popular and fashionable for people to own large breed cats such as tigers, panthers or leopards as pets. The same applied for any other exotic animal you could fancy — it was perfectly legal to keep almost any animal as a pet.

What is the best accessory to a leopard print dress and matching bag? An actual leopard walking down the London strip by your side, of course. However, this didn’t last.

In 1976 the British government put in place the “Dangerous Wild Animals Act,” giving pet owners the option of giving their animal to a zoo or sanctuary, pay to upgrade their own ability to house the animal safely or get it put down.

However, thanks to a loophole, if you had a big cat — let’s say a cheetah or a panther — and none of these options was appealing, you could legally release it into the English countryside. Many people did this up until 1981 when the government stepped in with a revised law.

The great thing is the British countryside is an environment that big cats are fully capable of surviving in — the temperatures are mild and there are wild deer and many sheep farms.

To this day, hundreds of sightings have been reported to police and there are numerous incidents where farms have found sheep carcasses that have been mauled — apparently by wild cats.

So, back to what’s going on the U.S.. What is going to be done?

Hanna met with Ohio Governor John Kasich on Oct. 19 to discuss changes to the current laws. Some reports are saying a new law, restricting the keeping of such animals, could be put in place as soon as six weeks.

Will this lead to the same situation faced by the U.K. in the late 70s and early 80s, where exotic animals were released into the countryside by owners trying to avoid the new laws? Only time will tell.

All I know is that I had better get my tiger soon.