Exotic animal killings: 'It's always the animals that suffer'
Los Angeles animal rights activist Martine Collette did not know Terry Thompson, the man authorities say released wild animals from his preserve in Zanesville, Ohio. And she says she can't begin to understand why he did what he did.
But she wishes he would have reached out to her. She would have gladly accepted the more than 50 dangerous animals he kept at his 73-acre Muskingum County Animal Farm, or helped find them a suitable home elsewhere.
Collette is the founder and director of the Wildlife Waystation, a 160-acre refuge in the Angeles National Forest. The nonprofit facility cares for wild and exotic animals and is considered a prime haven for big cats. Many of the animals there were abandoned or seized from misguided owners who thought the creatures could be turned into house pets.
She told The Times that she watched the television reports out of Ohio, heartbroken at the news that law enforcement officials shot to death nearly 50 wild and exotic animals including grizzly bears, Bengal tigers and a baboon out of concern for public safety.
"It's always the animals that suffer," she said.
She wondered whether Thompson, who had numerous brushes with the law over the years both about guns and the animals in his care, was struggling financially. It takes enormous resources to feed and care for so many animals, she said.
"The economy right now is horrific, and people who have large animals are suffering greatly" because of the enormous cost of feed and care, she said. "I wonder if he got to the point that he couldn't afford to take care of the animals."
Authorities say Thompson apparently let the animals loose and then killed himself. His body was found Tuesday in a driveway at the preserve.
Collette said that if he had called her, she would have responded. "I wish someone would have known what was going on; perhaps there was something we could have done. I certainly would have done everything I could to help."
But in the end, she said, it doesn't matter what the investigation determines. There's no excuse for what Thompson did.
She said that based on the information she's heard so far, she cannot condemn law enforcement officers for putting the animals down.
"My heart goes out to the people who had to do it, and my heart goes out to the people who live there and had to deal with this. But mostly I feel so very, very bad for the animals. It's always the animals that end up suffering."
-- Rene Lynch
File photo: Wildlife Waystation founder Martine Colette plays with two lion cubs at the facility. Credit: Los Angeles Times