Feb. 24--It will take a cunning and crafty critter to escape from the new Ohio Department of Agriculture exotic-animal containment facility in Reynoldsburg.
They will have to evade seven levels of security, including a surveillance camera that will snap their picture and instantly send it in an email to five different people in the state agency.
That's in addition to heavy steel cages with padlocks, an interior gate, a double metal exterior wall, and a 12-foot fence extending 18 inches into the ground with a 4-foot cantilever topped by electrified wire.
The multilayered security at the $2.9 million facility was enough to convince Pastor Bill Hayes that kids on the playground at his Hillview Church next door will be safe when exotic animals begin arriving. The church is the closest property to the facility.
"I was a little worried about the snakes, but after seeing all the security features and the seven fail-safes, I think everything will be all right," Hayes said.
Access to the site will be limited so that even Agriculture Director David Daniels won't be able to get in except in special circumstances. The public will not have access at any time.
The 17,920-square-foot structure, officially known as the Dangerous Wild Animal Temporary Holding Facility, was constructed in less than 90 days. It will accommodate animals seized by the state or surrendered by owners because of a new Ohio law restricting ownership and sale of a wide range of exotic animals. While the law doesn't take effect until Jan. 1, owners of animals on the extensive restricted-species list had to register their critters with the state by Nov. 5. About 150 owners registered 831 animals, but that includes zoos.The law came to be after Terry W. Thompson, of near Zanesville, released his menagerie of exotic animals before committing suicide in October 2011. Forty-eight animals, including lions, tigers and bears, were killed after they left their cages.
The Dispatch recently toured the facility located behind Department of Agriculture offices at 8995 E. Main St. on the outskirts of Reynoldsburg. The only animals there now are a stuffed lion, monkey and snake the staff playfully placed in the cages.
But Daniels said, "We're ready to take an animal today."
The cages for big animals are 12 by 18 by 10 feet. Some cages have solid metal walls to prevent aggressive animals, such as the big cats, from trying to get at one another.
The facility has a kitchen with food for the animals -- mostly a special meat mixture in 5-pound packages much like bulk hamburger from the grocery store. The state has a contract with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for two employees to come daily to feed and clean up after the animals.
Separate, smaller rooms have cages for monkeys and cases with lids for snakes.
Video from 17 surveillance cameras can be viewed on a computer monitor in the building security office. The facility will not be staffed 24 hours a day, but will be monitored continuously.The main entry has two electronically operated gates; the second gate will not open until the first has closed.
The department has a budget of about $800,000 to run the animal facility, but Daniels said that might have to be adjusted.
Daniels is the first to admit he doesn't know what to expect: whether the 30 large cages for bears, lions and tigers and other space for monkeys and snakes will be filled to overflowing, or remain empty. There are no reliable numbers for how many animals and snakes are out there. "We know there are additional animals out there," he said.
The facility, which is heated and cooled, can be converted to other needs, such as storage or even office space. It was built to add 10 more large cages if the need arises.
State Veterinarian Tony Forshey, who will be in charge of the facility, said a voluntary survey done by a national group found 27,000 households in Ohio that own an average of five snakes apiece, a total of 135,000 snakes. That is estimated to be 15 percent of the actual number.