New laws bring big cats to Indiana

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Dangerous wild animals are coming into Indiana now that other states have tougher laws governing them.

Two tigers are now at the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion, near Fort Wayne. They came from Ohio, where the previous owner could no longer keep them. Ohio passed new laws after a suicidal Ohio man released dozens of exotic animals last year.

Not far from I-70 in western Indiana, more than 100 acres serve as home to something you wouldn't expect to see here.

"We have all sorts of big cats. We have nine different species. We have lions, tigers, cougars," said Joe Taft, founder and director of the Exotic Feline Rescue Center.

Two-hundred twenty-eight cats are at the Clay County facility, most which were seized by law enforcement from irresponsible owners.

"I'm certainly in favor of the laws being tougher," said Taft.

In Ohio, it took a tragedy in which an owner released dozens of exotic animals in Zanesville before killing himself to tighten the laws there. Now, because of that, several big cats have been moved to Black Pine Sanctuary in northern Ohio after the owner said she could no longer afford them.

Taft says they have more than a dozen cats from Ohio from past years, but have yet to receive any calls since the law changed. He says he's not concerned Indiana will be flooded with animals from Ohio.

"There are not a lot of permit holders in Indiana. This is not going to become a statewide problem for us," he said.

While Taft says he doesn't expect an influx from Ohio, he says his rescue center will stay full. Crews at the facility are constantly building new cages, because in the 22 years it has existed, an average of @two new cats show up each month.

"Often times when we take in cats, it's done on an emergency basis, so we always have cages under construction. We always need to be ready," Taft told Eyewitness News.

Taft believes more reform is needed to protect not only the well being of these majestic animals, but also the public.

"Positive action is being taken in Ohio and hopefully that will be reflected nationwide," he said.

Indiana law allows individuals to own big cats, but a state license is required. The Department of Natural Resources will inspect those owners annually, or more frequently if there is a reported complaint.@

Large facilities are federally licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the state.