Ohio won't identify types of animals in exotics facility

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio - The types of animals being held at Ohio's new holding facility for exotic creatures won't be released to the public, mainly to deter anyone from trying to gain access to them, state Agriculture Director David Daniels said Thursday.

The facility, in suburban Reynoldsburg east of Columbus, is ready to take animals confiscated under the state's new ban on private ownership of exotic creatures, but for now is empty.

Ohio instituted the ban following the 2011 release in Zanesville of dozens of wild animals, including 18 Bengal tigers, by their suicidal owner. The incident, in which police were forced to shoot and kill almost all the escaped animals as night fell in rural Ohio, underscored Ohio's weak exotic animal regulations.

Daniels said during a media tour of the building Thursday that police and emergency responders will be notified about the animals housed at the facility, but publicizing the types being kept there at any one time would be too difficult, Daniels said.

"I hate to say it, while we're worried about an animal getting out, we're also worried about people getting in," Daniels said.

The facility is about the size of a large bard. At any one time, it will be able to hold no more than 30 large animals, such as bears or lions, and 10 smaller animals, such as monkeys or snakes. The department will look for permanent housing for the animals in sanctuaries or possibly zoos.

Reynoldsburg has typical subdivisions and neighborhoods, but the facility is held in a more rural area of the city. The mayor did not immediately return a message Thursday seeking comment.

Daniels opened the facility to the media as part of a campaign to assure the public that the building is secure. Animals would be housed in locked enclosures. They would have to breach seven barriers to escape, including an outside fence with an electric wire. Only five people at the department will have access to the facility, and Daniels said he is not one of them.

Motion sensitive cameras will photograph any movement in unauthorized areas and automatically email photos to department employees.

State veterinarian Tony Forshey emphasized that the building is more along the lines of a humane society or animal rescue facility.

"This is not a zoo," Forshey said.

Daniels said the facility will cost about $2.8 million. The Legislature has authorized $3.5 million.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.

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