Wild animals have a place, and that place is in the wild.

Had Ohio followed this simple principle, it might have been spared the tragic spectacle of 56 exotic creatures, including bears, lions and rare Bengal tigers, on the loose in rural Zanesville, where their deranged owner, who had been charged several times with animal cruelty, set them free before killing himself.

Unfortunately, Ohio is one of a few states with America's laxest laws on owning wild animals -- a practice strictly limited and regulated in New York. Ohio's anything-goes approach makes it a magnet for wild-animal dealers and commerce. That must change.

Miraculously, there were no human casualties, but most of the animals had to be shot by law enforcement officers for the sake of public safety. It's a tragedy that legislation might have averted.

Since there will always be people who put their own misguided desires above the welfare of their neighbors and creatures, strict laws are needed to protect all parties.

Shelters are full of unwanted animals well adapted to life with humans, and any sensible person knows this is a better option for a pet than keeping a tiger.

Born Free USA, a wildlife advocacy group, has tracked 1,599 exotic animal incidents. Some, like the 61/2-foot python found coiled around a carburetor, seem minor. But others, like a 4-year-old boy mauled by a pet mountain lion, are tragic.

That's why even those of us with the best of intentions must resist the call of the wild. hN


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