Ohio wild-animal killings renew call for ban on exotic pets
The tragedy unfolding in Zanesville, Ohio -- in which dozens of big-game animals such as lions and bears were released, then hunted down and killed -- has renewed the call for a ban on private ownership of such exotic animals, at least from one group.
"Wild animals should be left in the wild," said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA, a Washington-based animal-welfare and wildlife organization long opposed to keeping animals in captivity. "And that means individuals shouldn't have exotic animals as pets, because it's a danger to the animals and to those that live around them."
He along with countless other animal lovers were appalled by the headlines leading Wednesday's media reports.
The owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, Ohio, apparently flung open the reserve's cages, slashed open its pens and then killed himself. Dozens of wild and dangerous animals -- including grizzly bears, lions, tigers and a baboon -- were then free to roam the area. Most of them were gunned down by public safety officers.
Ohio law enforcement officials were at an immediate loss to explain why the farm's owner, Terry Thompson, did what he did. Instead, they were focused on protecting citizens, who were told to stay behind closed doors while wild animals roamed the area. Where they could, authorities tried to recapture the animals using a tranquilizer gun.
But that was not always possible. At last count, 48 creatures had been killed, according to the Muskingum County Sheriff's Department.
"I've been watching the news all day like everyone else; it's an amazing story, it's awfully surreal but on the other hand I'm not surprised," Roberts told The Times. "We often warn that these things can happen, people can be hurt, animals can be hurt, animals can be killed, but we know that these facilities exist and that has to stop."
He called for stricter federal and state oversight, and zero tolerance for the procurement of wild animals. His organization is opposed to keeping animals in captivity under most circumstances, and even opposes zoos.
That said, it acknowledges that there are certain situations in which animals must be held in captivity for their own protection -- say, the case of a tiger raised in a backyard, never learning the skills it needs to protect itself in the wild.
In those cases, however, there should be strict oversight and accreditation, and zero tolerance for violations that jeopardize animal welfare and safety, the group maintains.
The organization oversees a wildlife sanctuary for primates in Texas, and offered to provide a home for the monkeys that were removed from the Ohio farm as well as the one monkey that is still on the loose.
Roberts said the Zanesville incident should come as no surprise to Ohio legislators, as that state persistently falls short when it comes to protecting animal rights.
"Shame on any state legislator in the state of Ohio, and the governor, if they don't act today to try to prevent something like this from ever happening again," Roberts said. "I sure hope that they will now heed our warnings before another animal is killed and before a human has to lose his or her life."
-- Rene Lynch
Photo: A dead lion lays by the fence Tuesday on Terry Thompson's farm near Zanesville, Ohio, gunned down by safety officials. Credit: Heather Ellers and Dustin Burton