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Ohio panel proposes exotic animal ban in wake of October rampage

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Ohio may ban the sale and new ownership of the kinds of exotic animals that caused a panic last month in the eastern part of the state if lawmakers approve a task force's new recommendations.

The panel of animal and legal experts was asked to propose the rules following the release and subsequent killing of dozens of exotic animals including lions, tigers and bears outside Zanesville, Ohio, in late October.

Ohio is one of seven states that does not already ban the private ownership and sale of exotic animals, along with Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina and Wisconsin.

That would change in 2014, however, if the state adopts a list of "restricted animals" that would include large cats such as tigers, leopards and cheetahs, as well as bears, crocodiles, elephants, wolf-dog hybrids and a variety of snakes.

The state, if it enacts the proposed rules, would bar the new ownership or sale of animals on that list, with a few exceptions.

The restrictions would also require all owners with animals listed as "restricted" to register with the state within 60 days of the rule's passage. Ohio agencies would use that information to develop a "dangerous animals" database.

The task force that proposed the rules has met seven times since June, but its duties were expanded last month after Terry Thompson, an exotic animal owner outside Zanesville, released 56 animals from his private menagerie before committing suicide.

Local police were forced to hunt down and kill dozens of lions, tigers, bears, and primates Thompson set loose.

Currently, there is no comprehensive list of exotic animals in the state. But the Humane Society of the United States said that Ohio ranks fourth among the 50 states in dangerous incidents involving big cats, bears, and primates.

The task force's proposal was expected to be submitted the Legislative Services Commission in its current form and could be voted on by the General Assembly.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Cynthia Johnston)