VID: National Geographic Joins Debate on Exotic Pet Ownership


This month, National Geographic explores the debate over exotic animal ownership, in the wake of the Zanesville, Ohio, tragedy that saw over 50 animals cut loose on city streets after their owner committed suicide. The incident brought renewed attention to the issue of exotic pet ownership.

In March, Reason TV's Tracy Oppenheimer traveled to Ohio to investigate rigid regulations on exotic animal owners in the wake of the Zanesville tragedy. Original release date was March 26, 2014 and original writeup below. 

In 2011, Ohio exotic animal owner Terry Thompson committed suicide after setting over 50 animals loose. No civilians were injured, but the story received widespread media attention and Ohioans called for action. The state responded by passing the Dangerous Animal Act in record time, introducing rigid regulations for all exotic animal owners.

"To focus on this, and this law, as fast as they did and to pass it as fast as they did was nothing but a knee-jerk reaction," says Cyndi Huntsman, president of Stump Hill Farm in Massillon, Ohio. Hunstman and a few other exotic animal owners banded together to sue the state over the act, and in early March 2014, the court ruled to uphold it.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture told Reason TV that federal qualifications and requirements are too loose and don't properly manage the ownership of the animals, but Huntsman says that the new state restrictions are keeping neither society nor the exotic animals any safer. She adds that new insurance, veterinary care, and cage requirements make it very difficult for the owners to maintain their animals.

"It's very taxing for the individual," Hunstman says. "It has cost us over $70,000 [to comply]." The law extends to a variety of animals, including many reptiles and primates, but the one-size-fits-all legislation doesn't differentiate among common sense needs for accomodation.

"You basically need to have the equivalent of a maximum security prison," says Maurice Thompson, director of the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law. "You need to have a minimum two acre lot no matter what kind of animal it is. It could be for monkeys, and you still need a two acre lot. That same size that applies to monkeys also applies for a tiger, or a rhinocerous."

Yet as the current law stands, owners who can't comply with the regulations will be forced to surrender their animals, and sancturaries like Stump Hill can only take so many. The Department of Agriculture built a facility in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, to take the remaining animals. It's unclear what will happen to the animals surrendered to the state facility, but Thompson says there is a better way to handle the threat of dangerous animals escaping and wreaking havoc.

"If the animals cause harm or if the animals are even loose and roaming the streets then you throw the book at these people," says Thompson. "Punishment or the prospect of punishment has a deterrence effect, and you have to rely upon the court system rather than over-the-top regulations to accomplish these goals."

Written and produced by Tracy Oppenheimer. Camera by Josh Swain and Amanda Winkler. Music by Krackatoa.

About 5:30 minutes. 

NEXT: Todd Krainin Interviews Sen. Ted Cruz About Education and Choice

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  1. George Will continues his long and storied history of making one really stupid fucking argument and following it up with a completely cogent and rational point.

    “Lenin, whose spirit still infuses the government of Russia had a name for people like Mr. Snowden ? ‘useful idiots,’ he said, idealists so-called who served the interests of Lenin’s country,” Will said. “We don’t need to listen to Snowden anymore giving us lectures about the virtues of an open society when he chooses to go to earth in Putin’s Russia.

    Yeah, Snowden should have gone to one of those other countries that were offering him asylum. You know, all those other countries that wouldn’t have immediately sent him back to America for a 15 year prison sentence.

    In 1972, The New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize for the publication of the Pentagon Papers. The question occurs, what work did they do? Maybe the award should have gone to Daniel Ellsberg who leaked them. Did the paper do more than receive and publish?

    ^ This is dead on. The same goes for the awards David Corn got for opening his mail when someone sent him a video of Romney’s 47% comments. Journalism awards are just an opportunity for journalists to talk about how great they are, even when they didn’t actually do anything.

    1. That’s why I have mad respect for the Killing Fields guy. He always made sure that Dith Pran got the majority of the spotlight. Granted, Pran was a photojournalist himself, but it would have been easy enough to push him aside had Schanberg chose to do so. Also, Schanberg quite the NYT over their liberal bullshit, so that’s another plus in his favor.

  2. Of course there’s the mandatory statist saying there ought to be a federal law (you know, in case escaped lions cross state lines or something).

    1. Open borders for lions. Fences are mean.

  3. Laws should punish those who violate the rights of others. Laws should not attempt to prevent people from violating the rights of others.

  4. Where’s Michael Jackson when you need him?

  5. Today on Derpbook

    A response to this video:

    Where do you find these future mall shooters videos exactly? …..Yes Islam seemingly has more extremists than most religions, particularly in other countries where fundamentalist religious zealots control the laws and government, exactly how the religious zealots in THIS country would like to. The problem of course, is that in THIS country, Islamic fundamentalists are not a major issue. You are about ten times more likely to be murdered by a cop, than a Muslim terrorist. The rights obsession with Islam and creeping Sharia law makes about as much sense as equating all Christians to the Westboro Baptists. ALL religions and ALL groups have their extremist crazies, and at the top of the list of threats to national security and terrorist plots, white supremacist Christian militia groups outnumber Islamic fundamentalist t going threats nearly 10 to 1. I am more terrified of a truck full of bearded rednecks on some country back road than I am of a brown guy on a plane.

  6. Cont’d

    In fact Muslims are much more likely to be attacked or murdered by Christian supremacists in this country than the other way around. Anders Breivik and Wade Michael Page are perfect examples of what all the recent anti-Islam rhetoric produces and it is Muslims, not Christians that are now in the line of fire. White Christian supremacists have infiltrated nearly every level of our government and are as we speak introducing, writing, and passing legislation that has a real effect on the public, a power that Muslims of any stature will NEVER have in this country. Meanwhile we have Christians homophobic, racist, sexist, religiously intolerant zealots in positions of power decrying Islam for being homophobic, sexist, racist, and religiously intolerant. The truth of the matter is no matter what the religion, religious extremists are dangerous to everyone, but in this country the most effective a day dangerous ones are most certainly NOT of the brown persuasion.

    1. In fact Muslims are much more likely to be attacked or murdered by Christian supremacists in this country than the other way around. Anders Breivik and Wade Michael Page are perfect examples of what all the recent anti-Islam rhetoric produces and it is Muslims, not Christians that are now in the line of fire.

      Who’s more likely to get murdered: A Muslim in a majority Christian country or a Christian in a majority Muslim country?

      I also like the use of a Norwegian murderer as evidence that Muslims are getting attacked in America.

      1. I like the part where he equates the Westboro Baptists with Muslim terrorists.

        How many people did Fred Phelps kill?

    2. I know a couple of Sikhs…pretty decent people.
      I know some Hindus….decent citizens.
      Bhuddists….the ones I know are very nice and have a kick-ass work ethic.

      I could go on, but no need. Every cultural group I have had contact with, save two, are just fine.

      The Muslims I have met that immigrated here as adults keep to themselves, I suppose to maintain their culture. They avoid assimilation, which never works out well. What is interesting is that their children seem to have a great deal of difficulty fitting in with western society. They want to, but find it difficult. I suppose the values and world view that they learn at home is just not compatible with what they have to deal with outside the home. I have seen many of them with drug and legal problems, the inability to have successful relationships.

      1. I met many Muslims, both African and Indian, when I lived in Tanzania. They were all wonderful. My best students were Muslim. My Swahili teacher was a very sweet Muslim grandma.

        I concluded that Muslims can be decent provided that they ignore or re-interpret most of what their religion teaches.

        1. I concluded that Muslims can be decent provided that they ignore or re-interpret most of what their religion teaches.

          Sort of like every other religion. The best thing to ever happen to Christianity was the Christians choosing to ignore entire chapters of the Bible.

          The problem with Islam is that not enough Muslims ignore the Quran to the same degree Christians and Jews ignore the teachings of their holy books.

          An ignorant theist is a peaceful theist.

          1. I should have read your comment before I added below.

          1. There weren’t any Muslim rumblings while I was there. When I went to Zanzibar, the power to the whole island was out. In Stone Town, all you could hear was the put-put-put of generators. Still had a good time though. I went to the sea turtle sanctuary on the north part of the island and fed them sea weed.

            From time to time, I read and heard stories of attacks on albino people. A traveling group came the village one time and put on a series of skits about why we shouldn’t attack albinos.

          2. Jesus!

            There is nothing so tolerant as religion, huh?

        2. “I concluded that Muslims can be decent provided that they ignore or re-interpret most of what their religion teaches.”

          This is true not only of Muslims but of all the major religions. The problem with Muslims is that many of the places they come from are underdeveloped and backward, thus they tend to do that less than Jews or Christians.

          I want to add that the group ‘Muslims’ is a vastly diverse group having only one thing partially in common.

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