COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The state seized five tigers and five other animals from a northeast Ohio farm Wednesday, saying it hasn’t met the requirements of a law cracking down on exotic animal ownership.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture had worked with Stump Hill Farm in Massillon on its efforts to get accreditation from the Zoological Association of America and thereby be exempt from the permit requirements, but took action against the facility after those attempts stalled and the state learned Huntsman had improperly acquired more restricted animals, spokeswoman Erica Hawkins said.
Officials took the tigers, two pumas, two baboons and one chimpanzee from the property to the state’s temporary holding facility in Reynoldsburg, Hawkins said. She said she couldn’t immediately provide information about the condition of the animals.
Stump Hill owner Cyndi Huntsman argues that her nonprofit farm is a licensed educational facility and thus exempt from permit requirements for dangerous wild animals.
Her attorney, John Juergensen, said the animals weren’t a safety threat and Huntsman was being unfairly “picked on” by the state while an administrative hearing was still pending. Instead of putting the animals under distress, officials should have waited until the matter was resolved, Juergensen said.
“They were perfectly fine where they were. They weren’t a danger to anybody,” he said, alleging that officials seized the creatures simply “because they could.”
One of the seized tigers was a former live “Obie” mascot for football games at nearby Massillon Washington High School, he said.
The state had considered Stump Hill to be the last large facility not complying with the stricter rules Ohio enacted after a suicidal man released lions, tigers and other creatures from a Zanesville-area farm in 2011.
The agriculture director’s order to transfer the animals indicates that Huntsman had a state wildlife education permit but that it was issued only for a bald eagle, not other animals. Juergensen said the language isn’t limited that way.
Huntsman, who was among owners that challenged the state law, said she had refused to surrender the animals that were seized. She has the right to appeal the transfer order through an administrative appeal to the department. Juergensen said he’s also meeting Thursday with the judge who granted the warrant to raise concerns about what happened.
Huntsman previously surrendered six black bears, two brown bears and four alligators last year to decrease the number of animals at the farm as she pursued accreditation, Hawkins said.
In recent years, more than 110 animals have been seized by the state or surrendered by owners. Wednesday’s action is the second-largest of those seizures.
The state took 11 animals, including six tigers, from a small, roadside sanctuary in northwest Ohio in January 2015. One lion died, and the other creatures were moved to out-of-state facilities while the owner’s challenge proceeds in court.
In October, four bears were seized from an owner who refused to surrender them in Germantown, southwest of Dayton. The same week, a sanctuary near Waldo surrendered five tigers when state officials showed up. Both owners had started but never finished the application process for a required permit.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals praised the latest seizure in a statement, saying the affected animals include a chimpanzee whose freedom PETA has long sought.