An almost unprecedented tragedy unraveled this week in a rural town in Ohio when sheriff’s deputies were forced to shoot and kill almost 50 exotic animals. Terry Thompson, 62, owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm, flung open his animals’ cages late last Tuesday before committing suicide. Schools were closed and residents of Zanesville were warned to stay in their homes until Wednesday afternoon, when officers with high-powered rifles and orders to shoot-to-kill had managed to hunt down the 56 animalsthat had been turned loose from the farm. Among the animals killed were 18 endangered Bengal tigers, six black bears, three mountain lions, two grizzly bears, a wolf and a baboon. Six animals were saved and taken to the nearby Columbus zoo.
While the sheriff is receiving criticism for what happened to the animals, television wildlife expert Jack Hanna, amongst others, defended the shoot-to-kill orders. He was also, however, deeply saddened by the unfortunate incident, stating that, “It’s like Noah’s Ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio.”
Authorities would not elaborate on possible motives for Thompson’s actions, but some residents speculate it was an act of revenge against the police and his neighbors. Numerous complaints were filed about his animals escaping onto surrounding properties, and he had been previously charged with animal cruelty, animal neglect and allowing animals to roam.
The state of Ohio itself is also under fire as a result of the incident. It is notorious for having some of the weakest restrictions on exotic pets in the nation, as well as some of the highest numbers of injuries and deaths caused by them.
Tigers are some of the most majestic and most endangered animals on the planet. Over the last century, their population has dropped from 100,000 in the wild to roughly 3,200. Half of these are Bengal tigers, which live in isolated pockets across Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, India and Bangladesh. The tragic death of 18 of these rare animals, in addition to others, is an incident that authorities, residents, and spectators worldwide are still grappling to understand.