By DENISE GRANT
Hancock County’s new policy on dangerous wild animals establishes a chain of command and communication protocols if animals escape from their owner, but the policy gives no direction on how law enforcement should respond.
Lee Swisher, the county’s emergency management director, said the open-ended response is intentional.
The county commissioners approved the policy Tuesday.
Ohio’s new Dangerous Wild Animal Act was approved by state lawmakers in 2012. The law was enacted after authorities were caught off guard in October 2011 when exotic animal owner Terry Thompson released 52 of his animals from their cages and then committed suicide near Zanesville.
Fifty of the animals were killed by law enforcement officials.
In Hancock County, Swisher said it will be up to responding law enforcement officials to determine how best to protect the public and contain an animal, given the situation.
“In Muskingum County (the Zanesville incident), they took lethal action because of the time of day and the area where the animals were released,” Swisher said.
“We didn’t want to give an exact protocol. … And we don’t want to upset the animal owners by saying we will always euthanize, or we will always capture,” he said.
Response will follow the jurisdictional boundaries of law enforcement agencies, with local fire departments and the county’s state wildlife officer serving as backup.
According to the policy, there are a number of registered and unregistered dangerous wild animals, as now defined by state law, in Hancock County.
Under the Dangerous Wild Animal Act, it is illegal in Ohio to trade or sell several different types of primates and big cats, some smaller exotic cats, bears, hyenas, gray wolves, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, cape buffaloes, African wild dogs, Komodo dragons, alligators and crocodiles.
Anacondas, pythons, vipers and some venomous snakes are also restricted.
Zoos, research facilities, licensed circuses and accredited wildlife sanctuaries are exempt, but must still obtain permits from the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The law does allow current owners to keep their exotic animals. Owners must register their animals and comply with several new requirements regarding liability and care.
In Hancock County, Amy Rausch, of 20841 U.S. 68, Arlington, has registered three Java macaque monkeys, four Rhesus macaque monkeys and one Java/Rhesus macaque monkey.
Jane Miller, of 9747 Township 96, has registered a bobcat.
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