Today’s story about exotic animals who were set free from a privately owned farm near Zanesville, Ohio and then had to be shot by Muskingum County sheriff’s deputies is horrific on many levels.
For those who aren’t familiar with this awful story, a man named Terry Thompson kept dozens of exotic animals on his farm near Zanesville — about 50 miles from here. His stock included male and female lions, Bengal tigers, grizzly bears, black bears, mountain lions, wolves, and a baboon and a monkey. Last night, Thompson apparently unlocked all of the animal pens, cut wires that restrained the animals, and then shot and killed himself. The animals escaped into the surrounding area, terrorizing nearby neighborhoods, and had to be hunted down and killed by sheriff’s deputies. It’s terrible that so many innocent, magnificent creatures had to be killed — but public safety had to take priority, and you don’t mess around with grizzlies or Bengal tigers.
Now that the danger has passed, it’s time to ask questions. Ohio’s laws governing private ownership of exotic animals are apparently very liberal. Why? Even if allowing people to own or breed certain animals should be permitted under certain circumstances, isn’t it an obvious risk to public safety to have one man keep dozens of dangerous animals? What was done to make sure that Thompson was qualified to serve as a proper caretaker and that the animals were being kept with appropriate security? It’s mind-boggling to think that Thompson was allowed to keep more than 50 non-native, wild animals. It’s even more mind-boggling that, under Ohio law, the only thing between those creatures and the people of the surrounding countryside was the rationality of one man who thought it was reasonable to keep more than 50 dangerous creatures on his property in the first place.