By Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After the owner of an Ohio exotic animal park threw open the cages of more than 50 animals and then killed himself, authorities said they had to kill nearly all of them to protect the neighborhood.

There were 18 tigers, 17 lions, eight bears, and a baboon among the animals that authorities said they had to shoot dead, because it was getting dark, and they worried that tranquilizers would not be effective.

Officers said they tried to tranquilize one of the 300-pound tigers but it ran off after being shot and they decided to not try that again.

They are animals that most of us will only see in a zoo, but what kind of exotic animals are legal to have in Minnesota?

“Subsequent to 2005, Minnesota regulates registration and inspection of exotic ownership,” said Officer Keith Streff, an animal investigator with the Animal Humane Society.

Minnesota statute 346.155 prohibits exotic cats, bears and non-human primates and any hybrid of the above and domestic animal.

Prior to 2005, some cities and counties banned exotic animals, but there was no state statute for it. The state law grandfathers in some private owners and licensees who legally registered with local animal control authority and the Board of Animal Health.

The owner also must meet all USDA requirements for caging, vet care and feeding.

“The average citizen, if you’re not set up for it is often times a recipe for disaster,” said Streff.

And Minnesota has had some disasters. In 2006, a 500-pound Bengal tiger kept in Pine County mauled and killed its owner, Cynthia Gamble. In 2005, four tigers attacked a woman while she was cleaning their pens in southeastern Minnesota. And a 10-year-old Royalton, Minn. boy was paralyzed after he was attacked by a lion and Tiger in Little Falls, Minn.

But in Minnesota, for the most part, it’s illegal to possess any wild cat, bear or primate: So no lions, tigers, cougars, bears, or monkeys.

Streff said illegal mountain lions are likely the most common exotic animal in Minnesota homes and farms illegally.

“I suspect there’s probably a couple hundred of them out there,” he said.

Streff compared the exotic animal law to the fireworks law. It’s illegal to possess the animals in Minnesota, but legal to buy them.

“Just go to the Internet — a credit card, couple of clicks, you’ll have a baby cat on the way,” he said.

Still, the new state law has “significantly decreased the workload” of complaints about illegal animals, he said.

“They’re still out there,” said Tammy Quist, of the Minnesota Wildcat Sanctuary. Her group takes in animals that are rescued from people who shouldn’t have them. Over the past 10 years, they’ve rescued 300 cats, she said.

“In one summer, 2006, we took in 33 lions and tigers,” said Quist.

Jason DeRusha

Comments (6)
  1. not good pets says:

    We used to have a black bear caged on the edge of town. It escaped twice. Nice to know this is no longer legal. It made everyone in town quite nervous.

  2. Exotic Animal Supporter says:

    This state law should be repealed. Instead, there should be a state licensing law and inspections so people can legally keep these types of animals so long as they follow the rules. Yes, these types of animals CAN be kept safely, so long as you know what you are doing. Simply banning them outright is lazy, and really just reflects the “nanny” state mentality. Sometimes a slight amount of risk is worth the freedom.

  3. Rexano Exotics says:

    This Ohio was not a case of a failed cage, these cats didn’t escape, they were let go, they were RELEASED. Just like Terry Thompson facility, Wildcat sanctuary facility is not federally licensed or inspected by USDA either. What or who is preventing this MN sanctuary owner or volunteers from going postal too and release the animals?