Ed Murray, News 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- An exotic animal owner releasing his lions, tigers, and bears into an Ohio community this week prompts a call for change here in Oklahoma.
The Humane Society wants Governor Mary Fallin to immediately address the private ownership of inherently dangerous animals.
The group says Oklahoma is one of only five states that doesn't have such regulation and that jeopardizes public safety and animal welfare.
Oklahoma Director Cynthia Armstrong said the Humane Society wants Oklahoma lawmakers to act swiftly to restrict the sale and possession of exotic animals. She said escapes will happen if nothing is done.
"Inevitably, if you make one little mistake with a wild animal, you know, there's no recovery from that," she said.
The Humane Society points to several incidents in Oklahoma: the deaths of two volunteers at exotic parks in northeastern Oklahoma. And the escape in 1997 of a leopard near Luther that had to be gunned down.
"This could have been prevented," said Joe Schreibvogel who runs the G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood. He said the problem isn't the facilities, it's the daily harassment owners get from animal rights groups.
"You can only be stalked, harassed, and cyber bullied so long without any kind of law protection before you have to take matters into your own hands," he said.
Big cats and other animals not indigenous to Oklahoma fall under federal law, and private collections are not regulated. They're considered pets.
Owners do need a state license for native animals, like black bears, and game wardens can drop by at any time to inspect.
"The fences have to be so tall, you have to have perimeter fencing around the area, in addition to the cage, and assuming you meet those minimum qualifications, you would be licensed to keep an animal," said Micah Holmes of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Gov. Fallin's office said the governor does not have the authority to issue an executive order banning ownership of exotic animals, but said she believes in sensible rules and regulations to protect public safety.