In 2012 I worked hard to help pass SB 310, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act, which for the first time regulated private ownership of dangerous wild animals and constricting and venomous snakes in Ohio. Passed in the wake of the “Zanesville massacre” of more than 50 lions, tigers, bears, primates and wolves set loose by suicidal owner, the law was the culmination of a decade of efforts to get the Ohio legislature to rein in the dangerous and inhumane breeding and selling of these animals in the state. I helped by gathering testimony from a number of directors of accredited wildlife sanctuaries across the country, taking key sanctuary personnel to lobby state legislators, and providing my own testimony based on research and visits to dozens of zoos and sanctuaries across the United States.
One part of the exploitation of wild animals in Ohio that we were not able to address was the annual display of a tiger cub at football games by the Massillon Washington High School Booster Club. This club has been buying or renting a different cub for display every year for over 40 years. No one knows what has happened to most of the cubs, though four former Massillon mascots were found in unsafe conditions at an unaccredited facility near Toledo. They are probably among the lucky ones, as many tiger cubs bred for photo and petting booths end up in backyards, basements, barns, or canned hunts.
Though we were not able to stop this display in Massillon — the bill would not have passed without it — we were able to get a provision inserted into the law that required the booster club to pay for care of the tiger cub for life at an AZA or ZAA accredited facility. Such care is not cheap – it runs at least $10,000 a year to house and feed a tiger, and tigers live up to 20 years. So imagine my surprise when I read that the Massillon booster club was continuing to use new tiger cub mascots every year rented from Stump Hill Farm, one of the most prolific breeders of tiger cubs in the state but not accredited by AZA, ZAA or anyone else.
In response, I wrote the following letter that got published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Massillon’s live tiger mascot doesn’t seem to abide by state’s wild animal law
I have closely followed the debate over Ohio’s dangerous wild animal law and read your story on the Massillon tiger cub mascot (“Massillon Washington High School’s live tiger mascot to stay, boosters say, despite growing criticism,” PD, Dec. 24) with interest. However, it left me with several questions.
First, Sec. 935.03(B)(9) of Ohio’s law says an educational institution with a mascot must submit an affidavit attesting it will provide lifetime care for the animal in a zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or Zoological Association of America. Lifetime care of a tiger runs $200,000. How can the Massillon football booster club afford this?
Second, Sec. 935.06(F) and (G) of the law says dangerous wild animals can only be transferred under certain conditions – rejection of a permit application or death of the owner – and the person transferring must tell the Ohio Department of Agriculture where the animal went. Has Stump Hill Farm told the state where the previous Obies went?
Third, Sec. 935.07(A) of the law says dangerous wild animals can only be bred as part of a Species Survival Plan, which are administered by AZA-accredited zoos. How can Stump Hill Farm, which is not accredited, continue to legally breed tiger cubs?
These questions and more would be worth a follow-up from your reporter.
Cathy Cowan Becker,