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Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Official: More exotic pets in area than thought

Auglaize EMA creating a state-mandated plan to implement if animals escape

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - When thinking of what would make a good pet, bears, alligators and lemurs usually don't come to mind, but in Auglaize County, exotic pets are not uncommon.
Auglaize County Emergency Management Agency Director Troy Anderson told rotarians during their meeting on Wednesday he was surprised to discover just how many residents had pets that were deemed "dangerous wild animals" by the state.
Anderson began researching possible dangerous pets in the area when the state mandated all counties create a plan of action in the event any of them should escape their pens.
The mandate came after a large amount of wild animals, including lions, tigers and bears, were released by their owner in Muskingum County in 2011.
"I thought 'we don't need that here,' but I was proved wrong," Anderson said. "I was surprised by what I found."
The state created a list of wild animals that are considered dangerous. Any owner of these animals must register it with the state and pay to have a microchip implanted. Anderson worked with the owners to get the animals registered. The registration fee starts at $150.
Every surrounding county, including Mercer, reported no animals registered, "but I wasn't that lucky," he said.
Anderson found American alligators, a black and white ruffled lemur, capuchin monkeys, several black and syrian brown bears, a Canadian lynx, a cougar (mountain lion), several gray wolves, various snakes and a couple lions in the county.
"To look at these animals in person, it can be pretty impressive; I can understand why some of them have them," he said. "But when you start having five or six at a time or your lot is less than an acre and you have one of these running around, there can be problems."
Anderson said he's heard rumors of a residence in St. Marys where the garage is full of aquariums holding snakes. He said he would like to meet with the owner to make sure any dangerous ones get registered.
"I'd like to see what these snakes are because people usually don't keep common garden snakes as pets," he said.
The state's list of dangerous snakes include various vipers, pythons and anacondas. However, boa constrictors are not on the list.
Many people keep these wild animals as a source of income, he said. Some of the owners will breed their animals and sell them to organized wild animal hunt programs in southern Ohio.
"So basically you're purchasing the animal so you can hunt it," he added.
After maintaining a list of registered owners, Anderson's next priority was to assemble a response team that would help in the event of an escape. He said Sheriff Al Solomon was on board from day one.
"When the incident in Muskingum County happened, he came in and said 'what will we do if this happens here?' " Anderson said.
He said various fire and police chiefs from around the county have signed on, and a veteran with experience with exotic animals will serve on an advisory basis. He also is hoping one of the animal owners will join the team. As an owner, he or she understands the animals and could give advise on how to handle certain situations.
With the assembled team, Anderson will work on a plan of action. He said he and the team will discuss the feasibility of buying a tranquilizer gun and cages big enough to hold the larger animals.
"A tranquilizer gun can be stored at the sheriff's office or some other safe location ... but with large cages, finding storage could be an issue," he said.
Anderson added he doesn't know how best to round up animals and that's why he wants the advice of his team and animal owners.
"How would you catch something like an alligator if it got loose?" he asked. "I've seen how they do it on TV, and I'm not jumping on the back of one of these. Maybe we can get the sheriff to do it, but not me."
Anderson encouraged all exotic animal owners to contact and work with him. He said he's concerned the mandate will cause owners to release their animals in order to avoid the registration and chip fees.
"We will have some issues with this, I think," he said.
For more information, call Anderson at 419-739-6725. To see the complete list of dangerous wild animals or to learn more about state requirements, go to www.agri.ohio.gov under "Featured Programs."
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