Ohio Animal Tragedy Calls Attention to Loopholes in U.S. Captive Wildlife Laws
This week’s release and death of more than 50 so-called “exotic” animals near Zanesville, Ohio, is a tragic reminder that the laws protecting wildlife in the U.S. are full of loopholes that endanger not only the animals themselves but also people.
One of those loopholes could actually be closed soon. Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed doing away with an exemption in the Captive-Bred Wildlife Registration Program that currently allows individuals to own “generic” tigers (any tiger, usually cross-breeds, that can’t be identified as from the Bengal, Sumatran, Siberian/Amur or Indochinese subspecies and are therefore genetically useless for conservation purposes). If the new rule passes, owners of all of these tigers—the FWS estimates there could be 5,000 or more of these animals in the U.S. alone, significantly more full-breed tigers than remain in the wild—would be required to register the animals with the federal government. Owners would need permits or authorizations to sell the tigers across state lines, to harm them or to kill them. (You can read more about this proposed rule change and find out how to comment on it here.)
By the way, estimates of how many tigers are in private ownership in the U.S. are highly controversial. Some environmental groups say there may be as many as 10,000. Last month, the Feline Conservation Federation (FCF) released a survey which counted 2,884 tigers in zoos, nature centers and sanctuaries, but this obviously does not include much of the hidden market that fed people like Zanesville’s Terry Thompson, although the FCF did know about him.