There are a lot of guilty parties associated with the disaster in Muskingum County where about 50 exotic wild animals had to be killed after they were set loose in the countryside. The animals were the innocent ones in this nightmare.
Terry Thompson had collected tigers, lions wolves, cheetahs, primates and bears and kept them in a sloppy arrangement of pens and cages on his property outside Zanesville. He had been cited numerous times in the past for not properly caring for the animals, for lacking the required permits, and for firearms violations.
This was not a zoo, not an animal refuge and not a wildlife rehabilitation center. Thompson had a large, personal collection of some of the most dangerous wild animals on the planet. His farm held a disaster just waiting to happen.
Recently, reportedly deep in debt and depressed over a recent separation from his wife, Thompson killed himself. But before his final act he opened the cages and released his menagerie of aggressive carnivores on the hilly terrain surrounding his farm. When reports of lions and Bengal tigers chasing horses and running loose in the darkness came in, the local sheriff took the only action he could and dispatched his deputies to take down the animals before they attacked humans or other farm animals.
Despite his professed love for these great cats and his other animals, Thompson sentenced them to certain death by opening those gates. It was a selfish and vindictive move to destroy these magnificent animals at the same time he decided to take his own life. This is not what you do if you love your animals.
Wildlife expert and Columbus Zoo icon Jack Hanna arrived at the Thompson property and said the scene near the farm was like "Noah's Ark had wrecked".
Ohio's legislators and governor also share some of the blame in this nightmare. The Buckeye State lacks laws that prevent reckless individuals from possessing such collections of exotics. That negligent non-action allows situations such as what we witnessed in southern Ohio to take place.
The general public has to be protected from the careless actions of others, so laws need to be enacted to prevent private ownership of dangerous, wild animals. Freedom is one thing, but your personal freedoms end at some point before your "pet" lion gets loose and terrorizes a school yard.
It is a disgrace that many cities in Ohio have very tough laws restricting the ownership of certain breeds of dogs, but yet there are ineffective or non-existent regulations on wild animal collections like Thompson's.
As expected, there has been a robust chorus of political grandstanding since the tragedy near Zanesville, but all of the oratory comes too late to save those rare Bengal tigers or the other animals that were killed once they left Thompson's compound. This amounts to closing the barn door once all of the horses are out.
You know there is a legitimate crisis taking place when animal rights activists and big game hunter and conservationist Ted Nugent are lined up on the same side of the argument. Both have been very critical of Ohio's lax approach to controlling and monitoring the sale and possession of wild animals. Both have called for much tougher laws to prevent another horrendous situation like we witnessed near Zanesville.
The exotic animals Thompson collected on his farm never belong in a setting like that, housed in tiny cages and fed road kill or spoiled meat from grocery stores. They belong in the wild, or in the care of trained professionals and biologists associated with a circus or a zoo.
Our freedoms are very important, but there are logical, sensible limitations when our actions threaten the safety of others. These are wild animals, and they are never pets, no matter how much one cares for them.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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