Wild animals in Zanesville, OH – when humans err and animals suffer

The headlines yesterday were filled with stories about Terry Thompson, the owner of the 73-acre Muskingum County Animal Farm, who opened the cages on his wildlife farm before killing himself, releasing lions and tigers and bears (and more) into the community of Zanesville, OH.

By last night, according to a Reuters’ news story, all of the animals had either been killed or captured; the only one unaccounted for was a macaque monkey who is possibly carrying the Herpes B virus. It’s believed the monkey may have been eaten by one of the large cats. 

As the story unfolds, we’ve learned that Thompson –  whose menagerie included 18 endangered Bengal tigers, six black bears, two grizzlies, two wolves, 17 lions, cheetahs, mountain lions, leopards – had been charged with animal cruelty 11 times since 2004. He was released last September from federal prison where he served a year on a firearms conviction.

In a press release, animal conservationist and Feline Conservation Federation Vice President Patty Perry said that she got involved last November when it was clear that the situation with Thompson’s animals “had deteriorated into a situation that required immediate attention.”

“We notified law enforcement and set up possible transport and housing for the animals with wildlife agencies,” Perry continues in the release. “I offered to get on a plane and fly to Ohio to assist with securing a safe and well organized rescue operation. Unfortunately, law enforcement would not cooperate. Our hands were tied and in spite of our relentless effort, we were left frustrated.”

Yesterday, with literally dozens of dangerous, wild animals on the loose, officials had no choice but to kill most of the animals.

In a perfect world, tranquilizers could have been used. But it was dark; there was the chance an animal would be hit and escape before it dropped, only to regain consciousness later. And there were 18 Bengal tigers running wild. For the safety of the community, 49 animals were killed; six were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo.

So who’s to blame – for the danger to the community? For the mistreatment of endangered animals? For the loss of 18 endangered tigers? Should legislation be enacted that would prohibit the private ownership of exotic animals? Or should law enforcement be more responsible to respond to allegations of animal abuse and mistreatment?

Perry says, “The number of sub-standard facilities and incompetent individuals that exist in the wildlife community is minuscule compared to thousands of responsible, caring and successful owners and businesses. Perhaps next time someone WILL listen so we can do our job.”

So what do you think? Should the laws be changed to prohibit private ownership of exotic animals? Or did law enforcement drop the ball on this one?

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