An attack by a bear that killed a caretaker in a Cleveland, Ohio suburb has ignited discussion about the complete lack of regulation of ownership of large and potentially dangerous animals in many jurisdictions. Despite numerous serious injuries and deaths caused by dangerous exotic animals, some places like Ohio have had no means of restricting who keeps such beasts and how. Some places have no rules because no one has put the effort into developing them, while others have had attempts blocked by agricultural interests – people worried about regulations that could affect housing and care of farm animals. (You’d think that, with the number of lawyers in the US, someone could write some legislation that differentiates a Siberian tiger from a cow). As Wayne Pacelle, president of the humane society of the United States, said "It’s just a free-for-all in Ohio… Tigers, wolves, bears in a suburban Lorain County community. It’s a disaster waiting to happen."

As reported by the Associated Press, "According to a database of publicized exotic-pet escapes and attacks since 1990 kept by the animal rights group Born Free USA, Ohio ranks fifth in the number of episodes that hurt or killed a human — 14. The leader, Florida, has had 43, followed by Texas with 19, New York with 18 and California with 16. Alabama ties Ohio with 14."

Anyway, the bear in question is one of many large exotic animals owned by Sam Mazzola, a "former bear-wrestling entrepreneur." Since the animals weren’t in a zoo or some other place where they were publicly exhibited, USDA rules didn’t apply. Since the animals were not native endangered or threatened species, US Fish and Wildlife Service rules were avoided. In a place like Ohio, these are the only lines of protection for both these animals and the general public.

Mr. Mazzola claims that injuries and even deaths are "things that happen when you deal and love these type of animals," while explaining that he’s had about 2000 stitches from his time working with animals – so much for the claim that this is a safe situation. You also have to wonder about the ethics of putting young people in a position where they are taking care of large and potentially dangerous animals with, presumably, minimal proper training: the person killed in the Ohio bear attack was 24, and people much younger than him have been killed taking care of other large exotic animals.

Large exotic animals can be very interesting, but the health and welfare of these animals, people working with these animals and anyone that might come into contact with them (including if they escape) need to be considered. Too often, large exotic animals are kept in inadequate facilities, in terms of both animal health and welfare and human safety. Since common sense clearly will not prevail, the only way to control this is with legislation clearly describing which animals can be kept by which people and under what conditions, and through diligent enforcement of the regulations (with adequate penalties for violators to act as a deterrent).

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