Lions, and Tigers, and Bears–Ohio!: Banning the Ownership of Wild and Exotic Animals

In the middle of last week, news spread across the country concerning an incident that took place in Zanesville, Ohio. Late Tuesday night, Terry Thompson, the suicidal owner of an animal preserve, cut the cages and let the animals free before shooting and killing himself.  Throughout the night, citizens were on high alert as police and animals control responders combed the streets looking for the escaped animals that included bears, lions, wolves, and jaguars.

Officers tried to control the situation as best as they could but since the event took place during the night bullets had to be used on the animals.  According to Muskingum County Police Sheriff Matt Lutz, the nighttime proved the greatest obstacle in maintaining the safety of the animals: “If this had been 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock incident, in the middle of the day, odds are high that we may have been able to surround the area and keep everything contained…But our biggest problem that we had was nightfall.  We had about an hour, hour and a half of light, and we just couldn’t take the chance.”

Out of the 56 animals that escaped off the preserve, only 6 animals were able to be captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo where they are now being cared for by famed animal expert Jack Hanna and are said to be doing well.  Of the animals killed, however, there were 2 wolves, 8 bears (6 black and 2 grizzly), 1 baboon, 9 lions and 8 lionesses, 3 mountain lions, and an astounding 18 Bengal tigers.

Many have rallied together to express their sadness and anger over this event, including residents and police officers alike who had no other choice but to shoot live rounds at the animals. And now, questions are being raised about the regulations being placed on owning such wild animals in the state. 

When it comes to owning pets of this nature, Ohio has some of the weakest restrictions in the country. According to information released today, this particular property has had its fair share of eyebrow raising conditions including “big cats kept in cages without locks, a black leopard in a basement, lion and bear cubs housed in the same pen and a lion running loose.”  Additionally, over the years, neighbors have complained of Thompson’s horses getting loose from the property, as well as allegations that he and his wife had been mistreating cattle and bison by refusing to feed them. 

“This is a bad situation.  It’s been a situation for a long time,” explains Lutz.

While Thompson’s past is flecked with instances of trouble with the law, the case still remains as to whether any of this could have been prevented by the enforcement of stricter regulations and laws prohibiting the sale and ownership of wild animals within the state. CBS news reports that Ohio governor, John Kasich, revealed that he would be signing an executive order concerning the matter. This has been pushed by the recent events which possibly could have been prevented had a similar order not been allowed to expire this past spring. 

The goal of many activists now is to get the country-wide ban on the sale of these wild and exotic animals as pets. In doing so, we can hope to dramatically cut down the likelihood of an event like this ever happening again. Getting a state like Ohio to lead the way would be a great advantage to an important cause. To petition Governor Kasich to ban the sale and ownership on wild animals, please sign here.

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