Wild animal response plans taking shape

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – When law enforcement officers were forced to shoot a number of wild and exotic animals following the tragic events near Zanesville back in 2011, it likely sparked equal parts sadness and relief.

The relief came in that area residents were no longer in danger with wild, carnivorous animals roaming the countryside unchecked, posing possible extreme danger to residents.

On the other hand, it wasn’t just animal lovers and wildlife officials that were disheartened at the needless death of so many of nature’s creatures.

Not an average type of call for officers to respond to, by far. So without a proper plan in place, action was taken to preserve the safety of the public as quick as possible.

The state of Ohio recently passed regulations that in the event of another wild animal situation, ground teams are better equipped to handle it.

The Ohio Dangerous Animals Act was signed into law June 5 by Governor John Kasich.

Beginning Oct. 1, anyone in possession of a dangerous wild animal may apply for a permit from the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture, which is required to maintain ownership of said animals. There are separate permits both for dangerous wild animals and restricted snakes.

Owners must be 18 years of age or older, must have the animals previously registered and microchipped, must have the male animals of the species’ sterilized unless deemed unfit to do so by a veterinarian, among other rules.

The application fees for the permits aren’t cheap, ranging from $250 for one animal to $1,000 for those with 11-15 animals. Every animal over 15 is an additional $125 dollars.

Liability insurance is also a must, with a minimum of $200,000 worth of coverage for 1-5 animals, but to $1 million in coverage for those with 16 or more.

The list includes: tigers, lions, bears, elephants, certain monkeys, rhinos, alligators and crocodiles, along with anacondas, pythons and other types of venomous snakes.

A full listing can be found on the Ohio Dept. of Agriculture’s website.

In addition, each county in Ohio has been tasked with forming a Dangerous Wild Animal Response Team.

Belmont County EMA Director Dave Ivan will be playing a large role with the team and noted that representatives from local law enforcement, fire departments, emergency medical units, the health department, elected officials, veterinarians, animal control officers and even at least one wild animal owner will comprise the team.

“Within the county, we have probably nine different agencies that are involved,” Ivan said. “We’re just in the beginning phases right now.

“Our next task is to sit down and have a meeting with everyone and find out from the state why type of guidance we’re receiving from them and go from there.”

According to Ivan, there are two registered owners in Belmont County, although he admitted there are likely others who have yet ot register.

“There’s nothing here that is near the magnitude of what was out near Zanesville,” Ivan said. “But the one guy on the team, he has two black leopards.”

Ivan went on to explain that the particular gentleman is a very responsible owner and that something drastic would have to happen for those cats to get out.”

The members of the response team will work on devising a response plan in the event a similar situation to the one in Muskingum County occurs here locally.

The plan must be updated annually and submitted for approval to the state’s Dangerous Wild Animal State Emergency Response Commission.

Hughes may be reached at mhughes@timesleaderonline.com