Bear removed from area home headed to sanctuary

A Covington, Ohio resident who voluntarily surrendered her bear Tuesday morning had been approved by the state to transfer the exotic animal to an accredited sanctuary, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Kimberly Wymer, the bear’s owner, gave Maddie to Lions Tigers & Bears, which is based in Alpine, Calif. is home to 55 animals on about 100 acres of land.

Bobbi Brink, founder and director of Lions Tigers & Bears, said Maddie was one of nine bears the organization removed from private homes in Ohio on this trip. Lions Tigers & Bears removed 32 animals in Ohio last year, mostly tigers.

According to state law, private owners must be granted approval from the state in order to transfer their exotic animals, said Erica Hawkins, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture.

Since last September, 12 owners have been approved transfers by the state, mostly for bears and alligators, Hawkins said. If they don’t seek approval, they will be breaking the law and could face charges, she said.

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“Folks are taking a look at the new requirements, and more and more folks are deciding it’d be better for them to find another permanent home for their animal,” Hawkins said.

The new state law — the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act — takes full effect Jan. 1, 2014. In the meantime, state officials have been phasing in certain aspects of the law, which Gov. John Kasich signed last June.

The first phase went into effect Sept. 5, prohibiting the sale, purchase or transfer of dangerous wild animals, including lions, tigers and bears. Owners of dangerous wild animals had until Nov. 5, 2012, to register them with the Department of Agriculture and have them tagged with a microchip.

Failure to register disqualifies an owner from receiving a permit by 2014.

It’s unclear how many private owners in the state have exotic animals. A previous Dayton Daily News examination of owners who registered their animals showed that 14 people own a total of 59 exotic animals in the region’s eight counties — Montgomery, Miami, Greene, Warren, Clark, Champaign, Butler and Preble.

Starting Oct. 1, owners of registered dangerous wild animals may apply for a permit from the Department of Agriculture. A valid permit is required to maintain ownership of any dangerous wild animal beyond Jan. 1, 2014.

The state has the right to seize the animals if owners can’t meet the new requirements or are denied a permit.

Tim Harrison, the director of Outreach For Animals, has estimated that in Ohio, there are 2,000 lions, tigers, leopards and cougars, at least 1,000 bears, hundreds of alligators and there is no way to judge the number of venomous snakes.

During the last nine months, Harrison’s organization has removed “well over 100” exotic animals — lions, tigers, bears, cougars and alligators. Four alligators and at least two tigers are scheduled to be removed in August.

Outreach For Animals works with 15 accredited sanctuaries around the country.

“We’ve been doing this on a regular basis, and we expect it to pick up as it gets closer to January,” Harrison said. “There will probably be a big outcry of people who want help. Once it gets closer to time, a lot of facilities will be filled up. Now is the time to find a home for the animal you supposedly love.”

Wymer did not register her bear with the state, according to state records, but she called Lions Tigers & Bears looking to place Maddie — who is 10 years old and healthy — in a sanctuary.

“A lot of owners are afraid to call,” Brink said. “Sooner or later, you have to step up and make that call, especially if you haven’t registered your animals. We’re doing all we can to do the right thing for the animals.”

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