On Oct. 18 in Zanesville, Ohio, the owner of a privately owned wild animal park opened the cages of dozens of lions, tigers, bears and other exotic animals allowing them to escape before he committed suicide.
The horrific episode was finally brought under control but not before most of the animals had been destroyed by police officers who were faced with no other choice but to shoot to kill in order to maintain the public’s safety.
Incidents such as this, involving wild and exotic animals, while not necessarily intentional, have also occurred in Georgia throughout the years.
For instance, in February of 2010, a zebra escaped from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus and ran through downtown Atlanta ending up on the downtown connector during rush hour.
In April of 2008, two llamas fell out of a trailer on I-285 in Atlanta when a latch came undone, and in December of 2002, four bovines escaped a stalled tractor-trailer on I-20 near Covington. Interestingly, the escaped bovines were retrieved by a group of horseback riders from a rodeo taking place nearby.
On a more somber note, the Georgia Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in February 2012 in a case of a housesitter who was killed by an alligator who lived in one of the many lagoons around The Landings gated community near Savannah. Citing the doctrine of “animals ferae naturae,” a homeowner’s association is claiming they should be immune from the suit. The outcome of this case could expand the human liability for wild animal actions.
But Georgia and Ohio are very different when it comes to laws on wild animals. Georgia defines “wild animal” as any animal that is not wildlife and is not normally a domesticated species in Georgia.
In Georgia, it is illegal to import, transport, transfer, sell, purchase or possess any wild animal without a wild animal license or permit from the Department of Natural Resources. Licenses are only issued to those engaged in the wholesale or retail wild animal business or those exhibiting wild animals to the public. Permits are only issued to those with scientific or educational purposes or those with a permanent disability or disease in need of a capuchin monkey.
Also, insurance is required for anyone who possesses a wild animal that is considered dangerous, such as kangaroos, bears, lions, tigers, wolves, chimpanzees and alligators.
Earlier in the year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich had allowed a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire, saying that it was not enforceable. While many states have no laws governing the private ownership of exotic animals, Georgia, along with 21 other states, has a ban on the private ownership of such animals.
And while they may regulate some aspects of ownership of exotic pets, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina have no license or permitting requirements for the private ownership of such pets.
Although Georgia laws are widely viewed as stringent when it comes to wild animals and exotic pets, recent legislation has sought to change some areas. For instance, H.B. 277, which passed during the 2011 session, provides restrictions for hunting deer and feral hogs using bait. Many supporters of this bill cited the need to control the exploding deer population in our state as grounds to pass this bill.
Although it failed to pass during the last legislative session, S.B. 188 was introduced and would have allowed the creation of harvest-hunt preserves for the hunting of alternative livestock.
Also failing to pass during the 2010 session were two bills, S.B. 424 and H.B.1270, that would have allowed the operation of exotic game ranches and exotic game licenses for those wishing to hunt on them.
What happened in Ohio is truly a tragedy.
Could it happen in Georgia? It could, but because of our tough laws dealing with wild animals and exotic pets, it’s a lot less likely.
Carter can be reached at Coverdell Legislative Office Building Room 301-A, Atlanta, Ga., 30334. His Capitol office number is (404) 656-5109.