Lawmaker works for tougher exotic animal regulations
State representative: Tiger attacks could have been prevented
By Sarah Whitney
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 9:36 AM CDT
The safety concerns raised after two separate tiger attacks occurred in Missouri within days of each other are nothing new to state Rep. Mike Sutherland of Warrenton.
Sutherland, R-99th District, has worked since 2004 to pass tougher requirements for people who own exotic animals in Missouri.
"It's kind of sad that (the attacks) could have been prevented," he said. "Maybe if we had had some oversight it wouldn't have happened."Last spring, Sutherland summarized the challenges he had faced over the years trying to pass a Large Carnivore Act, saying: "The first couple times it was hard to get people (in the House) to realize it was an issue. Once we did a little educating, people realized it was important. We were able to get a lot of support. When it got to the Senate we had to start that education process over again. Hopefully, this year we'll make some progress."
The 2008 bill, which has passed the House the past two years, failed in the Senate.
"Before, I'd always tried to tell people we needed to take care of this problem before a bad situation happened," Sutherland said Tuesday. "Now a bad situation has happened."
On Aug. 3, a tiger at Wesa-A-Geh-Ya animal facility in Warren County jumped out of his cage and attacked volunteer Jacob Barr, 26, of Warrenton. Barr lost his lower leg, and the tiger was shot and killed.
The next day, three tigers at Predator World in Branson mauled a 16-year-old worker, Dakota Ramel, after he entered their cage to take pictures for visitors. As of last week, he was in critical condition.
Sutherland said he hopes the consecutive attacks will make lawmakers more open to considering legislation.
"I'll remind people they had a chance to take care of it before," he said. "I think people will be open to some kind of oversight to try to keep this from happening again."
The current state law, chapter 578.023, allows people to own exotic animals provided they register them with local county officials.
"In many cases, we've found that the registration process is not happening or being enforced," Sutherland said. "It's hard if you don't know the animals are there to go and enforce it."
At a minimum, an updated law would need to provide oversight on how exotic animals are kept, who can come into contact with them and what kind of facilities the animals can be housed in, Sutherland said.
He said he is not necessarily opposed to banning people from keeping the animals in the state, but that the first priority is to ensure safety.
"People need to make sure nobody gets hurt," Sutherland said. "If they can't do that themselves, then the state has to regulate them."