Ohio’s laws on owning exotic animals such as big cats, bears, apes and alligators are so loose that state officials have no accurate information on how many are lurking in pens and cages around the state. Thankfully, that will change soon after Gov. John Kasich signs tough legislation passed last week.

Kasich and Republican legislative leaders deserve credit for standing firm on the need for much tighter rules on private ownership of exotic animals. Owners raised many objections, even after an incident last fall near Zanesville when dozens of wild animals were freed by their suicidal owner. Most of the animals were tracked down and killed.

Within 60 days of Kasich’s expected signature, animal owners will have to microchip their dangerous wildlife and register them, giving state officials their first comprehensive inventory. Rough estimates now put the total, including venomous snakes, at about 640.

The bill will ban new ownership of dangerous and exotic animals but allow current owners to keep their creatures if they get a state-issued permit. The permit will require liability insurance and compliance with health and safety standards. Owners must get them by 2014.

Animal-rights groups praised passage of the bill, ending what Karen Minton, state director for the Humane Society, accurately termed a “free-for-all” in Ohio. The governor and legislature rightly made their top priorities the protection of citizens and the humane treatment of animals.