(UPDATE): As of Wednesday afternoon, authorities have killed 49 of the escaped animals — 18 tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, two grizzly bears, three mountain lions, two wolves and a baboon. Another grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys had been captured and taken to a zoo. The only remaining animal running free is a monkey. This saddening animal escape continues to shock to citizens across the country.
ZANESVILLE, OHIO – In yet another case of animal versus man, animals lost big after a resident convicted of animal cruelty released a veritable zoo of 51 exotic animals and then shot himself. The wild animals, including lions, tigers, leopards, and grizzly bears, roamed residential streets on a rainy night until police shot and killed all but three of them.
When even an animal expert like Jack Hannah is saying the animals had to be killed in the middle of the night rather than wait until morning to tranquilize them, we have to question both our values and the decisions made in Ohio. The first bad decision was letting a rule expire that forbade the personal keeping of exotic animals – that law should be immediately reinstated. Secondly, police need to be trained to deal with this kind of increasingly common emergency and properly equipped with tranquilizer guns and the knowledge of how to use them. And finally, rather than using the opportunity to turn Ohio farmland into a middle-of-the-night big game hunt, cooler heads should have prevailed and set about warning residents to stay inside until all the animals could be tranquilized and accounted for. Yes, it might have taken 24 hours because animals hide after being darted so it has to be done during daytime, but more of these animals could have been saved. To kill Bengal tigers and lions, some of them no doubt used to human contact, is just another example of human insensitivity toward ‘inconvenient’ animals that have done nothing wrong by their mere existence. The fact that police were able to kill most of them in a short amount of time indicates the whole thing was a turkey shoot. We’re saddened and appalled at the fate of these animals, which were double victims – first in their captivity, second in their impulsive slaughter. – Global Animal
Moni Basu, CNN – Flashing signs on the highways in eastern Ohio warned motorists Wednesday: Exotic animals on the loose. Call 911.
Schools shuttered and some frightened residents said they were keeping to their homes as sheriff’s deputies hunted lions, tigers, leopards and grizzly bears that escaped from a preserve after the death of the owner.
Terry Thompson, 62, was found dead and authorities were waiting on the results of an autopsy, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said. Bu he added that preliminary investigations indicated Thompson released his animals and then died from a self-inflicted wound. He had pried open cages and left the farm’s fences open.
Thompson owned between 48 and 51 exotic animals. Lutz said most of them had been accounted for, but at least three — a mountain lion, a grizzly bear and a monkey — were still missing. Most of those that had escaped from their pens were put down.
Lutz said his deputies, who found themselves in a volatile situation, had to shoot some of the animals at close range. A Bengal tiger was put down after it got agitated from a tranquilizer shot.
“We are not talking about your normal everyday house cat or dog,” Lutz said. “These are 300-pound Bengal tigers that we have had to put down. “When we got here, obviously, public safety was my number one concern. We could not have animals running loose in this county.”
Zanesville Mayor Howard Zwelling said he received calls from people who were concerned that the animals had been killed. He said authorities were trying to use tranquilizers whenever possible to save their lives.
Sheriff’s deputies used night vision equipment until daylight Wednesday to continue their search, which was hampered by rain. Lutz said deputies, armed with shotguns, were patrolling areas in pickup trucks.
“There are still thought to be several dangerous animals on the loose, creating a public safety threat,” he said.
Sam Kopchak, Thompson’s neighbor, said he saw lions and bears running free Tuesday evening. A tiger was chasing horses, he said.
Kopchak managed to get himself and his horse into his barn and telephoned his mother.
“We have a major problem,:” he told her. That’s when she called the police.
“It was like a war zone,” Kopchak said when authorities descended on Thompson’s property, set off the road named after Kopchak’s family.
Kopchak described Thompson as being aloof. He loved animals. Kopchak saw him driving one time with a baby black bear on his chest.
Lutz said authorities found primates inside the house.
The community was in a state of “shock and surprise,” said Tom Warne, owner of Donald’s Donuts and a lifelong resident of the city of Zanesville.
“It’s the craziest sort of thing,” he said.
Warne said he had met Thompson a few times. He used to come into the doughnut shop at one time.
Thompson had his run-ins with the law. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal charges of possessing illegal firearms, including five fully automatic firearms, and had just been released from prison on September 30. A civil case seeking forfeiture of firearms is still pending, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Ohio’s Southern District.
Thompson also was convicted of animal cruelty and animals at large in 2005 and was arrested several times for traffic violations.
Lutz said law enforcement officials were well aware of Thompson’s animals and made numerous visits to the property to look into complaints and ensure that Thompson was in compliance with permits
Thompson’s property is about two miles outside Zanesville, Zwelling said. Authorities said they received reports of animal sightings by residents. Columbus Zoo director emeritus Jack Hanna drove into Zanesville overnight to assist in the search.
But Hanna warned that the search was dangerous and human life came first.
“We’re trying our best to make sure no one is hurt doing this,” he said.
He said the animals were probably hiding out from the rain, but his advice to anyone who encountered one was this: Don’t run. Just scream.
The menagerie of Thompson’s animals also included wolves, giraffes and camels. Commuters reported seeing bears and wolves along Interstate 70. Lutz said one cat was hit and left wounded on the road.
The Humane Society of the United States urged Ohio officials Wednesday to issue an emergency rule to crack down on exotic animal ownership.
A previous emergency order issued by then-Gov. Ted Strickland that prohibited people convicted of animal cruelty from owning exotic animals expired in April.
The Humane Society said Thompson “would almost certainly have had his animals removed by May 1, 2011, if the emergency order had not expired.”
“Every month brings a new, bizarre, almost surreal incident involving privately held dangerous wild animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society. “In recent years, Ohioans have died and suffered injuries because the state hasn’t stopped private citizens from keeping dangerous wild animals as pets or as roadside attractions. Owners of large, exotic animals are a menace to society, and it’s time for the delaying on the rulemaking to end.”
Fritz Douthitt, a volunteer at the Zanesville Animal Shelter Society, recalled Thompson’s 2005 trial for cruelty and torture of cattle and bison. He said he had not been able to get up the hill to feed his cattle and they died.
Douthitt said it is inappropriate for people like Thompson to keep dangerous animals as pets, just as it was to shoot so many of them. Local governments, she said, ought to train law enforcement officers so they are prepared for bizarre cases such as the one that unfolded in Zanesville.
For lions, tigers and bears to die, she said, was “unforgivable.”