Updated: Wild Animals Escape Preserve in Ohio

Although details are few at this point, what is known makes for a sad story.  The owner of the Muskingum County Animal Farm, a wild animal preserve in Ohio, was found dead on his property late yesterday afternoon.  Most all the cage doors for the 48 animals had been left open.  Lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels, bears, orangutans and chimpanzees had been housed on the property although it’s unclear how many escaped the preserve.  The AP is reporting police officers shot and killed close to 30 of the loose animals.  Classes were cancelled for area schools and motorists were warned to stay in their vehicles due to wild animals being spotted near the highways.

There was reportedly no safe way to attempt to tranquilize and capture the animals in the dark so they were simply shot on sight.  In the daylight today, there may be some hope for capturing any remaining animals alive.

Added:  Local 4 News in Detroit is tweeting updates on the situation.  They report that police say the preserve owner opened the cage doors then killed himself.  Police are reportedly receiving threatening messages from animal activists regarding the shooting of the animals.  Jack Hanna is defending the actions of the police.  One person was arrested trying to steal one of the loose animals.  There are only 3 animals unaccounted for at this point – a mountain lion, a grizzly, and some type of monkey.  No one has been hurt by the animals so far.

37 thoughts on “Updated: Wild Animals Escape Preserve in Ohio

    1. All I heard was “not suspicious”. Which could mean suicide or natural causes although the cage doors being left open makes me think of the former.

  1. I dont believe that they could not tranquilize the animals. If they can shoot them with bullets, they can shoot them with tranquilizer darts. I know there are plenty of hunting stores in Ohio that sell night vision goggles they all could have worn to find the tranquilized animals. Pathetic excuse for cops who were pretending to be on a big game hunt. I am not joking, it is hunting season and they are all hunt crazed.

    1. My thoughts exactly. What a tragic loss!
      The poor animals were probably too terrified to start hunting humans for food—I’m sure they could have just locked-down the area til the AM, gotten the necessary equipment together, and captured most of them, had they been thinking. But then, we’re talking Zanesvile, OH–I used to live near there….nothing would surprise me!

  2. Totally agree Julie. Definitely a pathetic excuse on the part of cops. They will still kill them today I am sure.

    I think he was killed and someone let all the animals out.

  3. I found this quote in the WSJ an interesting assessment of the situation: “Ohio has some of the nation’s weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.”


    Completely unnecessary – both the killings and the need to have an exotic farm *environment*. These animals are again paying dearly for the foolishness of humans.

  4. Most of the animals that were shot were just milling around outside their open cages, they had never even left the property. Some animals did make it off the property and in the rain and the dark, I don’t know that tranquilizing would have been the best or safest option at that point

  5. well this is a horribly sad story…
    but i’m not sure- I think i may side with the police on most of this here. The police #1 job is protection of people. Most of those animals could very easily seriously injure or kill a human. Add to that the stress of being released (amongst other animals) and i’m pretty certain none of these animals could be expected to behave ‘predictably’ (whatever that would even be for a normally captive animal that’s acclimated to humans).
    I mean- what if one of those animals wandered into your yard and killed your dog?
    Also- could you imagine what would happen to someone driving on the highway that hit a loose bear?
    I feel like the camels should be safe to roundup- they’ve been domesticated for thousands of years. Giraffes maybe- although a kick from a giraffe can be easily fatal for humans. Wolves and orangutans are questionable- they’re not usually aggressive towards people but may become so when stressed/cornered. The rest- i think it’s unrealistic to expect a police officer (who has probably never had one iota of animal training) to go anywhere near a large cat or bear or chimp without the intent of killing it.

    As for tranqulizers- how many of your local police are trained in their use? How many tranquilizer guns are even on hand at any given department? maybe two? none? tranquilizer darts are not safe to use on humans so why would police stations stock them? and even if you get a really great hit with the tranq it can take minutes or more for it to take effect- assuming you hit muscle and not fat (which will then take even longer). And then- assuming you guessed the animal’s weight correctly and didn’t give a fatal overdose- the animal would need to be moved and given the antidote quickly to avoid death due to stress. How quickly are they going to be able to move a tranqed large animal with other large predators roaming around? probably not very.
    So i think it’s easy to say ‘why weren’t tranquilizers used’ but the reality is they’re not an effective tool with large groups of animals, or if human safety is imminently threatened.

    If animals were milling around their cages, i’m betting some of the herd animals could’ve been encouraged to move back in. But who wants to try wrangling a loose tiger? no thanks.

    Still- this is a horribly sad story- both for the ower (suicide is always sad) and his animals. With a few minor exceptions, i am largely against the keeping of large, ‘exotic’ animals as pets

    1. Once again, the town was in LOCK DOWN mode, people were aware, schools were closed, people knew of this threat and if it was the nighttime, early morning hours, people were sleeping anyway..! AND, Jack Hanna is there in Ohio and was there to assist, so they had an expert there they should’ve consulted and waited for.
      I’m sure every news station on tv and radio was alerting and talking about this constantly there! Even here in Chicago area, our local news station had the Mayor on from this town in Ohio and he said this man had a proper license (which no one should have!) but that they weren’t even aware he had 48 animals, the limit is 4 from what he said..
      If the animals were standing around outside their pens, why kill them?? yes, tranquilize them! why not? it was an easy shot right there to do this in a humane way, save them, not destroy these beautiful exotic animals who didn’t choose to be housed this way in the first place.
      But, I guess when you are living in a pro hunting state, guns come out and hunting begins…..I don’t buy that they couldn’t have tranquilized them or most of them at least!!

      1. Jack Hanna supported the Police Decision- as did the zoo employees that were there.
        And according to Jack Hanna at least one bear was shot while charging a police officer. So i don’t think all of these animals were calmly standing around outside their pens. These animals were stressed.

        And again- a tranquilizer can be fatal, especially if you don’t have the ability to quickly administer the antidote to the animal.
        Were they supposed to tranq all 30 animals and then secure them and administer the antidotes? i think that would be the only safe way to do so (for the people involved), and again- the length of time it would take to do so would most likely be fatal for the animals that were tranqed and waiting.

  6. I am generally opposed to keeping wild animals as pets. When they get out, they tend to cause great bodily harm to people. And no, I am not going to volunteer to try shooing any escaped Bengal tigers back into their pens. It’s such a sad story all the way around.

  7. Um, Bears aren’t exotic to Ohio. They live in the wild all over the united states. We even have bear sightings in Virgina from time to time. So hitting a bear on the road isn’t all that unlikely, depending on the area you are driving in.

    1. Yes, Christy, but I’ll bet you don’t have Grizzlies there, more like black bears? There is a huge difference in their, um, bearishness.

      1. We have grizzlies and black bears, and, if you go far enough north POLAR bears up here in Alaska. Difference is, they are wild animals native to their habitat. And frankly, no, I don’t think their bearishness changes all that much. (Anymore than a person with dark skin is more or less human than a person with white skin, or red skin or yellow skin!)
        I can see how a loose bear in non-bear country would be a terrific threat to the average person. (When my sister came up to visit she had trouble sleeping just knowing there were bears around—never mind that we all used to go to the dump in Wisconsin as a family to *watch* the bears!)
        Why are we all surprised that law enforcement chooses to kill first and not listen to other ideas ever? Isn’t that what so many animal control facilities do?!
        Instead of demonizing the evil public, we can all blame this one human and allow the government to play on our fears. (This one human might have felt strongly that *the public* needed to see and interact with the natural world in order to relax some of these fears—and phobias, if you will!)
        Alas, domesticated (read that captured in this case) animals are dependent on their people, and in this case, the backup support for these creatures was sorely lacking.
        Is it more tragic than an adorable litter or kittens or puppies are murdered because Animal Control can’t be bothered to develop a foster program to allow them to grow up and be socialized in order to join our society safely and happily? I don’t think so.
        I venture these beasts were adults, having had a chance to live for a while. I’m sorry that there wasn’t some back-up plan in place so that other knowledgeable and caring human(s) could have stepped in as advocates for the creatures, but, well, look how HSUS, ASPCA and even many veterinarians *advocate* for pets! Gads, they die in droves thanks to these folks!

  8. I would have hoped that the ones who hadn’t escaped the pen could have been saved, but they would have needed to be either repenned or tranquilized. I’d seriously doubt that the local sheriff’s office has enough tranquilizers for 50 exotic animals, many of them of the large variety. I’m normally very critical of the way law enforcement deals with loose dogs (amazing how every single one of them is vicious), but I don’t know that they had too many options here. And there would have been hell to pay had a lion killed someone after the sheriffs had had a chance to shoot the lion.

    Who thinks they could have just “locked down” the area overnight? We’re talking about a rural area and a local sheriff’s department!

    1. Jack Hannah was right there at the start, so YES, they had enough tranquilizers and tranq guns to do the job HUMANELY…
      It’s so easy to jump the gun, and get all trigger happy using the reason to “protect the people”, yes, we need to do this, BUT, other countries do these things much better and with more patience and compassion than ours! shame on Ohio!
      We need to do better, and design better plans of action in these cases, these exotic animals dont’ deserve to be hunted down like this…makes me nauseated.

      1. I’m not sure what your point is. Jack Hanna is defending the local authorities.

        Whether that says something about the local authorities or Jack Hanna, I can’t say.

      2. Lynn, why would you think that just because Hanna was there that he would have enough tranq guns and darts? What is that number that would qualify, in your mind, as “enough?” One gun for him, since he knows how to use one, and may have brought them with him – although we don’t know where he came from before he got to Zanesville. He doesn’t spend all his time at the Columbus Zoo. And even if he did set out from there, it’s ridiculous to think he would have taken every tranq gun and dart at the zoo – he certainly wouldn’t have handed them out to sheriff’s deputies with no knowledge/experience to use. He couldn’t leave the zoo without its guns and darts for even half a day – even as the director emiritus, he’s not allowed to put the zoo in harms way by taking its equipment. And very few zoos have a lot of those guns anyway, let alone pre-loaded darts for every type of animal (and proper weight doses), anyway.

        I’m not a huge fan of Hanna, and yes, I am angry and saddened by the deaths of these innocent animals, but everyone needs to get it through their heads that the people at fault here are, first and foremost, the dumbass owner, who didn’t take good care of these animals, and for some insane reason, opened cages and then killed himself (selfish prick), and beyond that, the idiots who both encourage, through marketing and open auctions, the keeping of exotics, and discourage, through lobbying and yelling about “personal freedoms” Ohio’s lax to non-existant laws. Adding in any and all inspectors (state and federal) who didn’t vigorously pursue whatever they could have in terms of citations, although because of those crappy laws, there are few to no prosecutors who would have stepped up to follow through on the citations, there’s much blame to go around. The sheriff’s department had an incredibly dangerous problem dumped on them without warning, and maybe there’s some blame in that they knew the owner had these creatures, yet they probably had no training for possible problems with exotic species, and no disaster planning for any response if they got loose. There are too many variables to work that out ahead of time – which animals, how many, day or night escape, weather conditions, direction(s) taken – to really come up with good plans. You could not have done any better than they did – and don’t think you could have gone in like St. Francis and gathered them all up with your loving kindness, in the dark, in the cold rain, and led them back to their proper enclosures without any problems.

  9. Most of the animals were killed right on the property, standing outside their enclosures. That is shameful.
    Whenever an animal is involved, the police shoot to kill. Serve and protect my ass!

  10. I could not find where he had a USDA license for his facility. I thought these facilities had to be USDA licensed. If he was licensed, there would have been inspections. This might have required him to totally fence the property.

    If anyone can find a license number, there would be inspection reports.

    1. Jennifer, I just heard a radio interview with the Mayor of this town, and he said YES, this man DID have a proper license, but how he was able to house 48 exotic animals is a mystery to them there? duh…so, I guess, there were no real inspections??
      I don’t believe anyone should be allowed to house exotic animals like this anyway! Now, these beautiful animals are being hunted down and killed, and for what?

  11. I agree with so many comments here, on WHY they simply couldn’t put on a pair of night goggles and IF they can pull the trigger to KILL with bullets, you can surely pull the trigger to dart them, tranquilize them and move them to another sanctuary etc.
    This is just another display of trigger happy cops and animal control agents not knowing or caring enough to be patient, and do the RIGHT thing instead of jumping the gun LITERALLY to kill on sight.
    I’m sure the kids were all in school by this time, or going to school, the schools were locked down, people were made aware, it was publicized so why hunt these endangered species in this barbaric manner?!!!
    Shame on Ohio for overreacting so quickly!
    This was not the fault of these wild, frightened animals! They were simply trying to find refuge somewhere and were freaked out not knowing where to go, after all, they were in Ohio, not a wildlife habitat….This makes me sick and ashamed of our country when I hear these reports!

    1. there are no indications that any of these animals were endangered species- and in fact i believe it is illegal to own, sell, possess, or transport endagered species (except i would assume for means of conservation- such as zoos and sanctuaries).

      1. According to this page, Cheetahs are on the Endangered Species List too since 2009, now to check on all of the other animals…Even if not endangered, they are exotic animals, wild animals, who do not deserve to be housed in cages, the shot and killed when they get out for whatever reason.

      2. Umm…pretty sure my above comment agrees with you about the keeping of exotic animals.

        True about the cheetahs. so if he had any he was most likely breaking the law (although i’m not sure how state/federal/international endangered species laws translate. For example- in MN the grey wolf is no longer endangered. But federally they still are. So there’s a big battle going on as to whether or not they can be hunted in MN)

      3. The tally given in the LA Times – http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/nationnow/2011/10/ohio-wildlife-care-problem.html – is killed, 18 tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, two grizzly bears, two mountain lions, a baboon and a wolf. Among the living, three leopards, unidentified monkeys, and an unidentified animal.

        Bengal tigers are indeed critically endangered. Given that these were probably acquired through the exotic pet trade, however, it’s possible they’re crossbred.

  12. According to the article on this from the AP that ran in today’s SF Chronicle – http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2011/10/18/national/a170258D83.DTL&tsp=1 – one of Thompson’s neighbors said he’d been in trouble off and on for some time over permits and escaped animals. And Ohio was said to have the weakest laws on keeping exotics.

    I’m with Shirley – in general I think it’s a very, very bad idea to keep exotic wild species as pets. And there was another article in today’s SF Chronicle about another aspect of it, on Oakland Zoo’s acquisition of four tigers that had been rescued from a roadside show: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/19/MN071LJ7QM.DTL

  13. Ok, I’ve been trying to add some humor here, BUT as a 20 yr vet wildlife rehabber, I have to weigh in: NO wild animal should ever be kept as a “pet”. EVER. They do NOT lose their “wildness” even if they become imprinted or habituated to humans, and there is always a safety factor to consider. As for the killings, IMHO they were not all necessary. If Ohio had called on some of its wildlife rehabbers, they would have suited up and gone in and gotten those animals back into their pens to the best of their abilities. THEN and only then should any lethal solution have been considered. These animals were failed. I also have some empathy for the guy who died. Whatever his reasons for keeping these animals, and I DON’T agree with them, his life must have been hellish for whatever reasons for him to off himself. A sad day for Ohioans all the way ’round.

  14. As usual the animals had to suffer and die because of the selfishness and stupidity of humans. I am referring to the owner as well as the cops. Shoot first, call in wildlife people later.

  15. Wild animals belong in the . . . wild! Again, the animals pay with their lives because of stupid humans.

  16. Most wild animal facilities have USDA licenses including zoos. They are “C”-Exhibitor Licenses. The zoos, nature centers, etc. all are licensed. The Columbus Zoo has been licensed since 1986 and has had 2 inspections so far in 2011 and had 3 in 2010.

    I am not sure why this person did not have a USDA license as I heard/read that he did have visitors come to his place and see the animals.

    Here is the web address to get into the USDA list of licensees and registered facilities: http://acissearch.aphis.usda.gov/LPASearch/faces/Warning.jspx

    Perhaps someone else could find his license number!

  17. Human population is said to be hitting 7 billion around Halloween – scary.

    Where are “wild” animals supposed to go? The killing of these animals in Ohio is tragic – panic frenzy (and I suspect those that enjoy killing) won the day –

    I’m sad for the guy who killed himself too. Heartbreak all-around.

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