A Brief History
On October 19, 2011, Zanesville in Muskingum County, Ohio became hunting grounds for lions, tigers, bears, leopards, mountain lions, and even monkeys when the owner of an exotic animal farm released his private zoo into the open and then shot himself.
Muskingum County was the home of Terry Thompson, a Viet Nam War vet who had maintained a private farm of dangerous and exotic animals. Among his successes were handling animals on the Rachel Ray Show and providing a lion cub for a photo shoot which featured Heidi Klum (click on her name for a link to the video). Despite these moments in the sun, Thompson was a troubled man and had been to prison for gun violations, and his wife had left him. Frequently on the receiving end of complaints about how he kept his animals, Thompson was also in financial straits on top of everything else.
So, on October 19, 2011, he let at least 50 of his animals out of their cages and then committed suicide by shooting himself. The county was now faced with numerous dangerous animals on the loose, a potentially deadly situation. No real option other than shooting the beasts was available, as sadly verified by television star Jack Hanna who was also director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio.
Among the animals set free were: 18 tigers; 17 lions; 8 bears (6 black bears and 2 grizzlies); 3 mountain lions (cougars); 2 wolves; a macaque monkey; and a baboon. Fortunately, 3 leopards, another Grizzly Bear and a couple more monkeys were still in their cages. One of the wolves was struck and killed by a car, and law enforcement officers killed another 48 of the animals. The remaining animal was accounted for when it was discovered that it had been killed and devoured by one of the tigers.
In response, the governor of Ohio temporarily suspended the trade of exotic animals, the shocked citizens of Ohio demanded that the state government implement controls on the keeping of exotic animals, and the state legislature agreed and passed new, stricter laws about obtaining and keeping such dangerous animals.
The incident received international attention, and a British television show spotlighted the disaster. On the American cable station Animal Planet, the incident was featured in an episode of the their show Fatal Attractions, a series about people who keep dangerous animals and end up in precarious situations as a result.
Luckily, no people or domestic animals are known to be injured or killed during this horrific event, although it is lamentable that such beautiful animals had to be gunned down. Question for students (and subscribers): What do you think about people who could be your next-door neighbor owning lions, tigers, giant snakes, alligators and the like? Should this even be allowed? Would it be acceptable as long as there were more stringent laws governing the private keeping of animals you would normally find in zoos? Tell us what you think in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Sutherland, Amy. Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the World’s Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers. Penguin Books, 2007.