WYLIE — A monkey infected with herpes remains on the loose after the owner of an exotic animal park in Ohio set more than 50 animals free and took his own life.
Authorities spent hours Wednesday trying to find rare Bengal tigers, lions, leopards, and black bears — among others. In the end, they said they had no choice but to kill 48 of the aggressive animals to protect human lives.
Twenty-two states ban the possession of exotic animals by private individuals. Ohio had a ban expire in April, and now has lenient regulations.
Texas requires a license to keep dangerous wild animals, but it's up to counties to decide ultimately what could end up in your neighborhood.
In-Sync Exotics in Wylie is an example of a wildlife exhibitor that plays by the rules.
Sanctuary founder Vicky Keahey secured permits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Collin County, and her facility is registered with the Texas Department of Health.
"I think incidents can happen anywhere," she said. "But we do take extra precautions to make sure it doesn't happen."
In-Sync, which keeps 59 big cats, is one of four wildlife sanctuaries in North Texas. The others are:
- CARE, in Bridgeport, has 44 animals, including 35 orange-and-white tigers.
- The International Exotic Animal Sanctuary near Boyd has 67 animals, including 52 felines and 16 bears.
- PrideRock Wildlife Refuge near Terrell has 35 lions, tigers, cougars, and wolf dogs.
In the late 1990s, state lawmakers gave Texas counties a choice: Ban exotic animals or regulate them. But some counties still haven't done anything.
Keahey says that's left some wildlife sanctuaries with no accountability for how they operate. "There are things that can be done and there are places around that aren't doing them that needs to be done," she said.
A Collin County inspector comes out to In-Sync once a year. If there are complaints, the inspector will pay another visit.
But there haven't been any.
The Wylie sanctuary is also visited annually by a USDA inspector.
"Our first priority is that each animal is kept safe," Keahey said. "In turn, by keeping all the animals safe, we're also making the public safe as well."
Keahey doesn't fault Ohio authorities for shooting the escaped animals there. She says by attempting to protect the public, they likely didn't have a choice.