CHICAGO - Ohio clamped down on private ownership of exotic and dangerous animals Friday after dozens of lions, bears and rare tigers freed by their suicidal owner had to be killed.
Governor John Kasich signed an executive order ordering state agencies to do everything allowed under existing laws to track down any dangerous animals being kept in the midwestern U.S. state and make sure they are held in adequate and safe facilities.
He also vowed to have a framework for comprehensive legislation governing private ownership of dangerous animals ready by November 30.
A task force had already been working on what Kasich described as "a very complicated issue."
"For today, I'm able to sign an executive order that will have teeth, that is founded in the law," he told reporters.
Local humane societies already have the power to investigate animal mistreatment and arrest abusers, while public health officials can shut down facilities that pose a public safety risk, he noted. They will now be directed to do so more aggressively.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will set up a hotline for public complaints and state agencies will work with zoos to "safely house animals that are captured or confiscated," Kasich said.
Bears, lions, tigers, wolves and monkeys ran amok when owner Terry Thompson, 62, flung open the enclosures at his Muskingum County animal farm near the town of Zanesville on Tuesday evening and then shot himself.
Police following shoot-to-kill orders, some of them armed only with handguns, said they had no choice but to exterminate the animals to protect local residents -- and in some cases, themselves -- as darkness fell.
There had been at least three dozen complaints since 2004 about Thompson's exotic menagerie -- including a giraffe grazing by a highway and a monkey in a tree -- and he had faced more serious charges of animal mistreatment.
Conservationists have for years demanded strict U.S. wildlife ownership laws, especially in Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin, where no such laws exist.
Image: Andrew Borgen / via Flickr