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Benton County stung by exotic animal ban, now taking a second look

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Wednesday at the Benton County Fair (copy)

Stingrays are shown on display at the Benton County Fair in this 2018 image. Animal welfare proponents pointed out that showing stingrays violated the county ban on exotic animals.

Benton County is revising an exotic animal ban that brought with it unintended consequences.

In 2018, the Board of Commissioners voted to ban wild and exotic animal exhibitions in circuses and other traveling shows in unincorporated areas of the county. Such acts have been condemned by animal rights activists.

Climate activists Sunrise Corvallis demonstrate outside the Corvallis City Council's chambers downtown. A Green New Deal resolution drafted by the group is under consideration by the council.

During the Benton County Fair & Rodeo the following year, animal welfare proponents pointed out that a stingray exhibit slated for the fair violated the county ordinance, according to a staff report. Stingrays weren’t specifically listed under the ban by name, but they are a sub-species Elasmobranchii, which is listed.

That led fairgrounds staff to research the banned animal list, identifying more than 2,000 species covered by larger classifications under the ban — including horses, which commissioners later voted to exclude from the ordinance, according to the staff report. Commissioners also approved a work group to recommend ordinance changes.

At the Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Sept 20, County Counsel Vance Croney said the current ordinance is “incredibly” difficult for staff and the public to interpret unless they happen to be biology majors.  

“I have felt from the beginning that we do the public a disservice by putting an ordinance out there that they can’t understand,” Croney said in support of a simpler version. “And it’s doubly difficult when they ask us what’s banned.”

The Board of Commissioners unanimously voted for staff to draft a new ordinance, which could replace the standing law that would be repealed.  

While aimed primarily at preventing the exploitation of traditional circus animals, such as elephants, tigers and lions, the current law also prohibits the exhibition of a lengthy list of other wild and exotic creatures, including giraffes, camels, walruses, bears and marsupials.

The initial version of the ordinance was amended to add the taxonomic groups that include wolves, raccoons, tortoises, skunks and armadillos, among others.

The ordinance currently exempts certain types of animal exhibitors from the ban, including filmmakers, educational institutions such as Oregon State University and the OSU Extension Service, and animal care providers such as Chintimini Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

Cody Mann covers Benton County and the cities of Corvallis and Philomath. He can be contacted at 541-812-6113 or Cody.Mann@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter via @News_Mann_.

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Cody Mann is an experienced, relentless journalist, who is currently working as a local government news reporter for the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He earned journalism bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Oregon.

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