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Humane Society pushes Virginia leaders to enact dangerous-animal ban

The Humane Society of the United States is calling on Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell to issue an emergency order or otherwise direct the Virginia Department of Natural Resources to adopt regulations on the sale and possession of dangerous wild animals following the escape Tuesday night of 48 wild animals—from bears to wolves to lions—from an exotic animal menagerie in Zanesville, Ohio.

Lax laws in Virginia make it one of the weakest in the country, threatening the safety of its residents, and would hardly keep such incidents from occurring here.

Virginia has little oversight of exotic animal ownership; the law requires a permit for big cats, bears and wolves with no regulation at all for primates.

“How many incidents must we catalogue before states like Virginia take action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “In recent years, people have died and suffered injuries because states haven’t exhibited the foresight to stop private citizens from keeping dangerous wild animals as pets or as roadside attractions, and the situation gets more surreal with every new incident, including this mass escape or release of large animals in Muskingum County, Ohio.”

In response to the Zanesville incident alone, Ohio authorities have already spent enormous resources on personnel, helicopters, infrared, and equipment to chase down and kill free-roaming exotic animals in order to protect public safety.

Authorities reported that exotic pet farm owner Terry Thompson was found dead on his Zanesville property, and cages were open where he had kept dozens of lions, bears and wolves. The animals were roaming the streets, and many have already been shot by responders.

Ohio is one of several states that don’t regulate private ownership of dangerous wild animals, jeopardizing public safety and animal welfare. Addressing the issue was one of the elements of a deal struck by The HSUS and agricultural leaders in Ohio to advance a series of animal welfare policies in the state.

Some states that previously had no restrictions on exotic pets have enacted prohibitions in recent years — such as Washington, Kentucky and Iowa — putting them now among the best in the nation. Some states that already prohibit certain wild animals such as big cats as pets need to add primates to the list, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and Virginia.

The following is a sampling of the many incidents in Virginia over the last decade that demonstrate the hazards of allowing unqualified individuals and facilities to harbor dangerous wild animals:

May 2011/Surry County: An adult java macaque attacked his owners while sharing the same bed.
July 2010/Mechanicsville: Six chimpanzees escaped an enclosure at Windy Oaks Animal Farm when a gate was left open and one was not recaptured until the next day. According to Windy Oaks’ veterinarian, this escape was the third such incident at the facility.
March 2010/Chesapeake: A man was attacked twice in two weeks by his pet capuchin monkey, who bit his left hand, severing a finger.
November 2008/Luray: A 16-year-old employee at the Luray Zoo was attacked by an adult tiger, causing severe injuries to her left hand and arm.
October 2008/Virginia Beach: A 25-year-old woman was found strangled to death by her pet python.
February 2006/Richmond: A 5-year-old boy was treated at a hospital after being bitten by a black bear at Maymont Park. The facility’s bears were killed to be tested for rabies.
December 2003/Natural Bridge: Two Asiatic bears were shot and killed after they escaped from their enclosure at the Natural Bridge Zoo.”

Augusta Health Augusta Free Press Kris McMackin CPA
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