Caution: Exotic Animals

A Zanesville, Ohio, man who owned a large private menagerie of tigers, lions, bears and monkeys opened the cages to many of the exotic animals then killed himself in his home Tuesday. Around 5:30pm, his neighbors began calling the Muskingum County Sheriff's Office to report sightings of animals wandering off of Terry Thompson's land.

When police went to investigate, they were met by a herd of about 50 exotic animals, and Thompson's body in the driveway. "I had deputies that had to shoot animals with their side arms," said Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz. Soon after, officials from nearby Columbus Zoo came armed with tranquilizers to help locate and rescue as many of the animals as possible. But it didn't go as planned: "We just had a huge tiger, an adult tiger that must've weighed 300 pounds, that was very aggressive. We got a tranquilizer in it, and this thing just went crazy," Lutz said. After the incident, he ordered a shoot-to-kill for the remaining animals.

49 of Thompson's 56 animals were dead and buried on his property, at the request of his estranged wife, by Wednesday morning. Authorities captured a grizzly, three leopards and two monkeys, which were sent to the Columbus Zoo for safekeeping. A baboon possibly infected with hepatitis B was still missing as of Wednesday night.

How did this happen?

Ohio has extremely lax governance over the ownership of exotic animals. The state's "inadequate regulation" puts it near the bottom of the list in a 2009 report from the Humane Society of the United States. And earlier this year, an emergency rule which "prohibited people convicted of animal cruelty from owning exotic animals" expired, allowing Thompson, who was previously charged with and found guilty of animal cruelty and neglect, to keep his 56 lions and tigers and bears.

Public safety vs. animal protection

Immediately after this story broke, Zanesville residents and national news viewers began calling the sheriff's office and Zanesville area shelter to ask why the animals--many of them listed as endangered species--were being killed rather than tranquilized or recaptured. The short answer: No time. The longer answer is best explained by Jack Hanna, beloved animal rights activist and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo:
"[Y]ou can't tranquilize an animal in the dark. It upsets them ... they settle in, they hunker down, they go to sleep. Obviously, we can't find them in the dark. So what had to be done had to be done. Even a bear came after one of the officers last night, and she was just trying to get out of a car. ... No one loves animals more than me, but human life has to come first."

As night descended on Ohio and liberated exotic animals ran loose, swift and decisive action was needed to protect the human residents of Zanesville; unfortunately, it was at the expense of Thompson's pets. The Humane Society supports Lutz's actions and those of his team, and PETA, in a written statement, blamed legislation instead of law enforcement for the deaths.

Preventative action

Over the years, Lutz received "around 35 calls" about Thompson's farm--all concerning "animals running loose to animals not being treated properly." He went on to say that his office has "handled numerous complaints here, we've done numerous inspections here. So this has been a huge problem for us for a number of years."

Former governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, imposed the legislation that was allowed by current governor, John Kasich, to lapse in April. Of Thompson, he said, “Someone with a record like this man was not intended to have these animals.” Strickland asserted that Thompson "would almost certainly have had his animals removed by May 1, 2011, if the emergency order had not expired."

PETA, for its part, has been petitioning Ohio (and a number of other states) for years to institute "an outright ban" on owning exotic animals. The group is currently asking the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to "exercise its authority to declare emergency regulations to prohibit the keeping of exotic animals" as well as petitioning the state to "seize the animals over whom the agency has jurisdiction and see that they are placed in reputable sanctuaries." Whether Gov. Kasich will comply has yet to be seen.

Is an outright ban on owning exotic animals the right move here, or should there just be stricter limitations on who can keep the animals (and where)?



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I don't have a problem with zoo's or people owning 'exotic' animals AS LONG AS they aren't endangered. If the living conditions for the non-endangered animals are proper, then there shouldn't be a ban on them. However, I think that anyone (except for real zoos) owning an endangered animal is just being selfish. They belong in the wild, where they can hunt, reproduce, and live, not caged up in some random person's house just for their ego.
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ignatius, it's called reductio ad absurdum, and is not twisting at all what binkie has said, but taking the point to its logical, albeit extreme, end.

Animals die out and other replace them. What's the point of keeping animals if we have their pictures on the tv and the internet? In that sense, why bother keeping them around at all? As binkie said, "Animals die out and others replace them".

I would rather see an animal in a protected area or captivity than see it die out altogether. I'm not a fan of zoos myself, but to compare a private collection of exotic animals with a large-scale professional zoo is ridiculous.

Also, go visit the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and tell me if you can get the same experience from your tv.
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I hate to be nit-picky, but Jack Hanna is not an animal rights activist. By definition, he can't support zoos and support animal rights simultaneously. I think "animal welfare activist" would be more appropriate in this instance.

I agree with Binkie, there is no reason for us to have any of these animals in captivity.
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It is absurd to blame this on Kasich. Strickland was governor from 2007 to 2011. Thompson's conviction on animal cruelty charges was in 2005. Why didn't Strickland enforce his own executive order? Maybe because executive orders are not laws or legislation and are meaningless? Don't know myself, but trying to politicize this and blame Kasich is ridiculous.
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I own 300 emu for meat, oil and eggs. They are "exotic" and my livelihood. You people that want to regulate how I keep my animals? I want to regulate how you keep your children. Now what amount of state intrusion are you willing to accept? I want very little, Binkie seems pretty comfortable with lots.
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