John Shelton, spokesman for the St. Louis County Health Department, says no exotic animals are currently registered in the county.

In the City of St. Louis, meanwhile, owning big cats, bears, venomous snakes and other wild animals has been prohibited since 1982.

The Missouri legislature has considered several laws that would restrict big cat ownership. Most recently, in January State Senator Tom Dempsey, a St. Charles Republican, sponsored a bill that would have banned private individuals from owning exotic species, including big cats, as pets. The bill died in committee.

istockphoto.com/©jim kruger

"It seemed reasonable to me that we shouldn't allow just anybody to raise and care for these animals," says Dempsey. "With more oversight I believe [the attack in Warren County] could have been prevented. Unfortunately, that's sometimes how things get done. The legislature will be reactive rather than proactive."

Mike Sutherland, a state representative from Warrenton, says he's been trying in vain to secure legislation to restrict ownership of large carnivores since his first term in office in 2003. He says he initially heard about the issue at a town meeting in Warrenton where area residents expressed outrage about the unsupervised wildlife at Wesa-A-Geh-Ya.

"I'm not for regulation; I think less government is better," Sutherland says. "But if there's one thing we ought to keep an eye on, it's large cats that can eat you."

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