- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Eight owners of dangerous wild animals who started the state’s new permit process last year but didn’t complete it have been notified that they can’t legally keep their animals unless they prove they’re exempt from the requirements, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

The notified owners are in Belmont, Clark, Cuyahoga, Franklin, Fulton, Marion, Montgomery and Preble counties, department spokeswoman Erica Hawkins said in an email Friday.

The letter sent to them says they didn’t meet the state permit deadline, so they have three choices: They must move the animals out of Ohio, surrender them to the state or prove they have an exemption from the permit requirement, such as certain zoo association memberships.

“We hope that you understand that ODA’s interest in this matter is one of ensuring the safety of the public regarding dangerous wild animals as well as equal application of the law to all individuals,” the letter said. “We trust that you will take the necessary steps to ensure full compliance under the law.”

The state cracked down on owners of big cats and other creatures after a man near Zanesville in eastern Ohio released dozens of exotic animals, including African lions and Bengal tigers, and killed himself in 2011.

Two more owners who didn’t get permits by the deadline but want to keep their animals are fighting the state in court.

At Kenny Hetrick’s animal sanctuary in Stony Ridge, near Toledo, the state seized six tigers, a bear, a lion, a cougar, a black leopard and a liger in January, saying that he’d ignored warnings about needing a permit and that his cages weren’t secure enough to prevent an escape.

In northeast Ohio, a pending civil case involves a Lodi couple who want to keep their toothless, 41-year-old caged black bear, a male named Archie. They say they weren’t adequately notified about the law, and they say that moving or tranquilizing him would threaten his life.

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