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Zanesville animal incident shows need for stronger laws

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On Tuesday, October 18, Terry Thompson of Zanesville released more than 50 wild animals from his menagerie before taking his own life. Animals set loose in the Ohio countryside included wolves, mountain lions, bears, lions, and tigers. Law enforcement from Muskingum and Licking counties responded to the threat posed to the public, and unfortunately most of these animals had to be killed.

On the bright side, however, six animals were saved from Thompson’s collection., namely one brown bear, three leopards, and two Celebes macaques. These animals have been brought to the Columbus Zoo for observation and treatment. Zoo staff will care for these animals, still the property of Thompson’s family, while the legalities of the situation work themselves out.

While it is easy to be outraged over the death of some 49 exotic animals, it is important to remember that law enforcement officers were not facing a single big cat or bear. Instead they faced eighteen tigers and a similar number of lions, as well as wolves, bears, and mountain lions. The situation was fraught with danger to law enforcement, the public at large, and the animals themselves. In fact, one of Thompson’s monkeys was killed by one of the lions.

Outrage over this event should be directed toward Ohio’s lax laws on private ownership of exotic animals. Pressure should be brought to bear on the governor and state legislators to pass effective and real control over these sorts of private collectors of dangerous animals. Currently, a committee that includes representatives from the Columbus Zoo, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Humane Society of the U.S. among others is working on a framework for this new law. This effort is supported by Governor Kasich, and he hopes that it can be presented to the legislature by the end of the year.

In the mean time, those who would like to help the six remaining animals can make contributions for their care to the Columbus Zoo at this website.

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