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How Ohio is implementing new exotic animal law

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio (Rich Jaffe) -- Leaders at the Ohio Department of Agriculture say the state's new exotic animal law is working so far.

A story you'll see only on Local 12 News, Ohio's spent millions of tax dollars trying to improve its reputation as a state with some of the loosest laws on dangerous animals.
It's been called "Ohio's Alcatraz for Animals."  This ultra-secure 3.5 million dollar facility sits on the Department of Agriculture campus in Reynoldsburg.  It's a maximum-security clearing house for things like lions, tigers, bears and alligators. 

The vice chair of the dangerous wild animals advisory committee, Dr. Tony Forshey tells us, "We have a lot of locks, double padlocks, a lot of barriers, the cage then an aisle way they can't get out of then another set of cages, metal steel doors and that gets them into the sally port.  Then we also have the 12-foot fence with a four-foot cantilever with electric wire around the top and those posts are buried six feet in the ground with 18-inch dig barrier."

When a suicidal owner released dozens of wild animals from a private facility near Zanesville in 2011, Ohio leaders formed an advisory board and enacted new regulations for exotic animals.  They initially identified 151 such animals.

Over the last year, the state took control of 30 alligators, three bears and one cougar.  SPCA Cincinnati's Harold Dates says on the local level, it's all about communication.

He tells us, "The zoo is registered and there are a couple of alligator owners that are registered but we don't know what else may exist in the county, so that's always going to be a question and that's why we have to be prepared on a just-in-case basis."

Now while I would love to take you inside this place and show you what all those millions of tax dollars are being used for, I can't do it.  That's because in the entire state of Ohio there are only five people who are allowed to have access to this facility.  Because of the extraordinary security, Local 12 was provided with some video of the facility before it opened.

Only 27 animals have been through here in the first year.  The state relocated most of the big cats and bears to preserves out west.  Dr. Forshey says the laws and the facility are all about keeping Ohioans safe.

"We want to ensure that the folks who live around here and others that we have these animals contained," Forshey said.

Just last week, a Butler County man who owns a local wildlife rescue operation sued the State Department of Agriculture, saying the permitting laws are unfair.  No word yet on when that case will be heard.

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For the video, click HERE



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