caretaker Rick Armstrong kneels next to an African civet as it stalks around the interior of its enclosure.
/ Matthew Berry, The Advocate
JOHNSTOWN — For years, Evelyn Shaw has volunteered at Butternut Farms Wildcat Sanctuary in Johnstown and cared for large cats of her own, including a mountain lion.
But after then-Gov. Ted Strickland issued an emergency executive order Jan. 6 making it illegal to possess, sell or transfer “dangerous wild animals,” the Pataskala woman is anxious to learn how the new ban will affect the creatures she loves.
“I feel like it bans the animals and it bans (the owners),” Shaw said. “We are left trying to figure out what to do. We still haven’t gotten enough information yet.”
RULES AND EXEMPTIONS
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife will enforce the order, which restricts ownership of animals such as lions, primates and some types of pythons for the next 90 days.
Although the order bans new animals, individuals who owned restricted animals before Jan. 6 will be exempt, as long as they do not acquire any new animals or have their ownership license suspended, according to the ban.
Individuals must register their animals with the Division of Wildlife by May 1 and must renew their registration every year. Animals also must be implanted with a passive integrated transponder, a microchip that is used to identify animals.
Other entities that are exempt from the ban are institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and facilities that have a contractual relationship with AZA to breed threatened or endangered species, according to the ban.
Entities licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including circuses and existing mascot programs, as well as research facilities, wildlife rehabilitation facilities and wildlife sanctuaries that are nonprofit organizations also are exempt, according to the ban.
The order fulfills Strickland’s end of a deal with the Humane Society of the United States, other animal rights groups and Ohio’s agribusiness industry. The agreement prompted the Humane Society to withdraw a ballot issue containing restrictions on pet ownership and treatment and livestock care.
As an emergency order, Strickland’s order is temporary — running through March 6. A permanent ban could be submitted by ODNR and accepted by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.
WHAT ANIMALS ARE AFFECTED BY THE BAN?
• Coyotes, timber and gray wolves
• Lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards, clouded and snow leopards, cheetahs, bobcats, lynx, cougars, pumas and mountain lions
• Alligators, crocodiles, caimans and gharials
• Mole vipers, anacondas, burmese pythons, reticulated pythons, amethystine pythons, scrub pythons, northern and southern African pythons, boomslangs, twig snakes, cobra, mamba and coral snakes, sea snakes, rattlesnakes, pit vipers and puff adders
Source: Ohio Department of Natural Resources
OPPOSITION TO THE BAN
Besides being an animal owner, Shaw is the director of legislation for the United States Zoological Association and Uniting a Politically Proactive Exotic Animal League. Both groups strongly oppose the ban, she said.
“We will support fair regulation, and this is not fair. This is a straight-out ban,” she said.
Before Strickland’s order, Ohio had some of the nation’s weakest restrictions on exotic animals and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them, according to The Associated Press.
Better rules were needed, but passing an emergency order was unnecessary, Shaw said
“It’s one thing if they wanted to work with different groups and come up with different regulations. This is just flat out saying, ‘You can’t have them,'” she said. “This is our property, and our love for them is very strong.”
‘A LOT OF QUESTIONS’
The administration of the Division of Wildlife is reviewing the executive order to establish what steps need to be taken, said Laura Jones, chief of communications for ODNR.
“We are going to need to take a very long look at this,” Jones said Wednesday. “We are not a full three days into a new administration, and we need to understand what this executive order is calling for. For us to take time and consider this is very important.”
For Carol Bohning, the owner and director of Butternut Farms, Strickland’s executive order has left her with more questions than answers.
“There are a lot of questions now about the future,” Bohning said. “The rules are very confusing.”
Bohning started the sanctuary in 2000. It provides a home for 22 animals including cougars, bobcats, a wolf, foxes and Siberian lynx. Many of them were mistreated or abandoned by their owners.
Years ago, Bohning got a USDA exhibitor’s license so she could do educational programs at the farm. Groups of schoolchildren come to see the animals, and students from Ohio State University volunteer to care for them.
Because Butternut Farms is a nonprofit sanctuary, Bohning is confident she’ll be able to keep her animals. But with many of them getting older, Bohning is concerned she won’t be able to replace them when they die.
“After a time, our mission will be completely gone,” she said. “In a few years, there will not be that educational component in Ohio.”
Bohning said she plans to move her animals to land she owns in Hocking County, but she isn’t sure she’ll be able to do that under the ban.
“I don’t mind state regulations, but I really dislike the fact that people who do not understand animals are coming in from out of state and telling animal owners what is best for their animals,” she said.
MORE HARM THAN GOOD?
Chris Law’s biggest fear is that Strickland’s ban will end up hurting animals instead of helping them.
As director of the Ohio Reptile Service, Law has spent years assisting law enforcement agencies around central Ohio with removing large reptiles, such as snakes or alligators, from homes.
After receiving medical care, many of the reptiles were adopted or used for educational programing. But Strickland’s order could change that, Law said.
“It’s so unclear, it’s very difficult for me to know if I can assist police and what I can do with these animals,” he said.
The confusion could lead to an animal being euthanized instead of rescued, Law said.
The ban also could cause owners to abandon their animals or neglect them, said Joe Schreibvogel, president of the USZA.
The association already has received several calls from Ohio owners looking to get rid of their animals.
“If you can’t breed or sell something, why feed it?” he said. “You have to face the fact that a lot more animals will be euthanized and a lot more animals are going to starve or not get the care they need.”
The ban will not keep dangerous animals out of Ohio, Law said.
“Regardless of the law, people can get them from other places,” he said. “Animals will still be kept illegally, and all legal keepers are stuck.”
Shaw, Law and Schreibvogel said they are working to make their concerns known while the ban is still temporary.
“We would like to meet with (new Gov. John) Kasich and discuss what regulations should and shouldn’t be there,” Shaw said. “We want to have the chance for this to go through legislation.”
On Jan. 6, Kasich said he supports the ban in concept.
“We don’t want exotic animals here where somebody’s bringing something in and then some neighbor gets hurt. So we’ll look at it,” he said during a news conference. “It sounds reasonable, but just let me take a look at it. I would be inclined to say we should continue it.”
Bohning said she hopes changes can be made and regulations can replace the ban.
“I want to see (these animals) being taken care of to the best of anyone’s ability, and I think Ohio can help move toward that,” she said. “I don’t think an all out ban is the way to go.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Anna Sudar can be reached at (740) 328-8544 or email@example.com.