Slaughter of tigers, lions sparks uproar over lax wildlife laws
October 21, 2011
WASHINGTON: Conservationists have demanded action over non-existent US wildlife ownership laws after the slaughter of 49 animals, including 18 rare Bengal tigers, set free from an Ohio farm.
'Quite frankly, nobody should have these animals in the first place so we need to take steps to change laws to make that a reality,' said Adam Roberts, the executive vice-president of Born Free USA. 'These animals belong in accredited facilities with people who can handle them appropriately.'
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 killed himself.
Police officers, following shoot-to-kill orders, killed 49 of the animals.
Only six animals were saved. A monkey was still thought to be on the loose, if it hadn't been eaten by a lion.
Conservationists have for years demanded strict wildlife ownership laws in the US, especially in Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin, where the rules are non-existent.
'All eight states that don't have regulations should immediately have an executive order by the governor banning the keeping or sale of these animals,' Mr Roberts said.
'Stop people acquiring these animals full stop. I always ask myself what is it going to take. Is it going to take a woman getting mauled nearly to death by a chimpanzee as happened in Connecticut? Well no, people around the country can still have primates.
'Is this going to open up the eyes of the people in Ohio, which is one of the worst states in the country on the exotic pets issues? I sure hope it does, because this could have been worse, people could have been killed.'
His call found one advocate in Congress, the Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich, who is also a leading animal rights advocate.
'I am hopeful that in light of this most recent tragedy, governor [John] Kasich will heed the calls of the Humane Society of the US and the public and quickly enact appropriate restrictions on the ownership of exotic animals,' he said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called on states to introduce a blanket ban on the private ownership of exotic animals. 'A ban is really the answer to this,' said PETA's Delcianna Winders. 'Private citizens just aren't capable of giving these animals what they need.'
For the WWF, the loss of 18 Bengal tigers was particularly devastating as the number of tigers in the wild has declined rapidly, from about 100,000 at the beginning of the last century to as few as 3200 today.
Leigh Henry, a leading WWF expert on captive tigers, said there was thought to be 5000 tigers held in the US, some 95 per cent in private hands.
'I would say the current patchwork of laws in the United States regulating these captive tigers is inexcusable,' she said.
'In Ohio and seven other states you can just go and buy a tiger with no requirement for any kind of licence or permit.'
A tiny number of pure-bred tigers are protected at federal level by the Endangered Species Act and a larger number, those used for commercial purposes such as circuses or roadside zoos, are regulated by the Department of Agriculture. But the majority of tigers are either unregulated or regulated at the state level.
WWF's principal concern is that their body parts could end up being traded on the traditional medicine market.
Rising wealth in Asia has seen demand soar and the international trade in wildlife products is now an estimated $6 billion-a-year business.
'Wild products are preferred because they are always seen as more pure and potent,' Ms Henry said.
'They always carry a premium on price. As long as that market is there, the threat to wild tigers will increase.'