For more than twelve tense hours, heavily armed police officers near Zanesville, Ohio scoured the region for big cats, bears, and other exotic animals set loose from a local wildlife farm -- ultimately killing nearly 50 of the 56 escapees. Among the dead animals are 18 endangered Bengal tigers, 17 lions, two grizzly bears, six black bears, a baboon, and seven bobcats. Although the public was cautioned to remain indoors during the hunt, there was a human toll as well: the owner of the wildlife farm, who evidently unleashed the exotic animals on the community before committing suicide.
According to a report from the Associated Press, the owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm, Terry Thompson, was discovered dead on the farm from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Officials believe that prior to committing suicide, Thompson openEd the animals' enclosures, allowing them to escape, perhaps with the intention of creating havoc for his neighbors and police -- and it did:
As the hunt dragged on outside of Zanesville, population 25,000, schools closed in the mostly rural area of farms and widely spaced homes 55 miles east of Columbus. Parents were warned to keep children and pets indoors. And flashing signs along highways told motorists, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle."
Officers were ordered to kill the animals instead of trying to bring them down with tranquilizers for fear that those hit with darts would escape in the darkness before they dropped and would later regain consciousness.
Officials say all the animals released yesterday have been captured or killed, except for a monkey that has yet to be found.
Volunteers from other animal preserves in the area, including the Columbus Zoo, on hand to assist police with the recovery of the animals were saddened at the immense loss of life. The death of 18 rare Bengal tigers, an endangered species from Asia, is considered particularly tragic. Only around 3,000 of the big cats are thought to exist in the wild.
Some questions remain as to how the wildlife farm was funded; it was not open to the public. But among conservationists, the fact that Thompson was able to house so many exotic animals (many of which were purchased) reflects a failure of legislation. "How many incidents must we catalog before the state takes action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals?" says the Human Society's CEO, Wayne Pacelle, via AP.
Earlier this year, a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets was allowed to expire in Ohio.
UPDATE: Mat makes a great point on Twitter: "In one day Ohio police killed the equivalent of 36% of China's wild tiger population. http://bit.ly/aKZutP via @MatMcDermott (Update posted by Chris Tackett)