EMA to develop plan for handling exotic animals

Emergency Management agencies throughout the state are being charged with creating plans to handle exotic animals.

Auglaize County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Troy Anderson said state officials are  requiring such plans be made after more than 50 exotic animals escaped from a farm near Zanesville in October 2011.

Forty-nine of the animals, including tigers, lions, black bears, mountain lions, grizzly bears, wolves and a baboon, were killed when law enforcement responded. Six animals, a grizzly bear, leopards and monkeys, were captured alive.

No humans were injured by the animals release by their owner who shot himself after releasing the animals, but in the aftermath of the event legislators called for stricter exotic animal laws and better plans for intervention.

Within eight months, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill that barred future ownership of certain wild animals and required current owners to insure their animals and register them with the state. Those who don’t adhere to the new law face criminal punishment when it goes into full effect in 2014.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) oversees the new law and opened a $3.5 million facility in Reynoldsburg this year to house surrendered or confiscated exotic animals.

“They are saying we need to write a plan to deal with it, if it happens here,” Anderson said of the possibility of exotic animals getting loose in Auglaize County.

He is in the process of setting up a task team with representatives of law enforcement, fire, EMS, public health, veterinary care, an exotic animal owner, and others to determine how to proceed.

Anderson said just from word of mouth he has been told about alligators, black bears, cougars, lions, mountain lions, and tigers in the county.

“The list goes on,” Anderson said, also mentioning a location in the county that is said to have a lot of venomous snakes. “A lot of them aren’t registered.”

 Anderson said this is a list of exotic animals thought to be living in Auglaize County.

“After the incident in southern Ohio, we have to have a plan for how to handle an emergency if it happens here,” Anderson said. “What are we going to do if an animal gets out? What do we need to respond?”

He said their first intent would be to safely capture animals, but even then they would need to know how to handle and care for them until they could be taken to a permanent facility.

“We have no plan like this now,” Anderson said, explaining he is planning to get the task team together for its first meeting by the end of July. “We just need to get started.”

He said unless owners of the animals adhere to the new law, there is often no way to know what they may have at a particular location. Many times the owners provide veterinary care to the animals themselves. At times the animals can be located through the places where the owners get food for them.

“We need to get the information for the plan to be effective,” Anderson said, “so we know what we are dealing with.”