Lion, Tigers, Bears: At Home in the Wild or in Your Spare Bedroom?

Shouldn't all exotic animals be banned as pets? Virginia is moving in that direction.

As cute as this baby Bengal tiger is, would you really want him as a permanent member of your household? (Photo: Stringer/Reuters)

Even in the fictional Land of Oz, lions, tigers, and bears are feared. So why do 30 states in the U.S. continue to allow exotic animals as pets, nine states of which do not require the animal owners to carry permits or licenses if the animals are kept within the state? 

Virginia already bans bears and big cats as pets, but now a recent state panel proposal seeks to tighten ownership rules and expand the list of banned exotic animals. So the question is, how can Virginia’s proposal influence the rest of the 30 states in the U.S. to get on board?

Unfortunately, according to David Whitehurst, Director of the Bureau of Wildlife Resources for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the efforts of the Dangerous Animal Initiative and Workgroup have been slow-moving.

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No specific incident sparked the three recent and two upcoming meetings between local, state, and federal government representatives with the DAIW; rather, Governor Bob McDonnell ordered the dangerous animal review, following the 2011 Zainesville, Ohio, incident in which over 50 lions, tigers and animals were released by their owner and shot by state authorities. 

Whitehurst says that the DAIW hopes to finalize a report of banned animals by the end of this year, but in the meantime, the working committee, which includes stakeholders from the Ringling Bros., Virginia Zoo, and Busch Gardens, is addressing questions that include: who should have these animals; what legal responsibilities they have if their animals pose a public safety threat; and what regulations should be put in place to avoid the threat of public safety.

“Right now we’re struggling with primates and snakes,” adds Whitehurst. “Sufficient regulations, in my opinion, would be: cage requirements, required animal owner insurance, and whatever else the stakeholders are asking.”

When asked what measures could be made to ensure that an event like the one in Zainesville, Ohio, doesn’t happen in Virginia, Whitehurst replied, “What I’ve seen work in other states is to train animal control officers to use specific drugs to either kill or sedate the animals (for relocation), but there’s difficulties with that, with the availability of certain drugs.” 

“Ultimately, the responsibilities should be on the owner,” says Whitehurst. If animal owners can’t control their own animals, Carl Davis of Hanover County suggests that regular citizens might have to “carry weapons…just about everywhere we go.” 

But, come on, we’re not living in a Walking Dead world or on The Island of Doctor Moreau. Wouldn’t the best solution be to ban all exotic animals as pets across the United States?

Are you for or against a federal law banning exotic animals as pets?

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