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The Massacre in Zanesville, Ohio: Why?

The Massacre in Zanesville, Ohio: Why?
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We may never know the whole story of why Terry Thompson let out 50 exotic animals then put a gun to his head.  The Ohio tragedy that occurred in Zanesville last week will continue to haunt us. The photos of so many dead carcasses lying on the ground together is something I doubt has been seen before in the U.S., and hopefully, it will never be seen again.

But the fact remains that 49 of Thompson’s exotic pets were shot dead and one  – a monkey — was presumed eaten by one of the cats.  Six survived because their cages were not opened by Thompson.

Those survivors, which include three leopards, two monkeys and a grizzly bear are currently being cared for at the Columbus Zoo.  Among the dead are 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears and two grizzly bears, three cougars, two wolves and a baboon.

Marian Thompson, widow of Terry Thompson, has expressed a desire to be allowed to bring those six animals back to the farm where she wants to care for them.  She has stated she was very bonded with the animals, especially the primates.  She even allowed the female primate to sleep with her in bed.  At her request, the 49 animals killed last week were buried on the farm.

Animals Shot and Not Tranquilized
A lot of anger has been expressed toward the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office for issuing the “shoot to kill” order.  Animal advocates and many others wonder why the animals weren’t tranquilized rather than shooting them.

There are several things to consider here. First, a police department with the responsibility for a population of 85,000 people would not have enough tranquilizer guns available to sedate more than 50 exotic animals.

Second, the process of tranquilizing wild animals is not as simple as loading a dart into a gun.  The weight of the animal has to be taken into account to ensure enough medicine — and not too much — is loaded in the syringe.  The animal’s weights were unknown and estimating those figures during a face-to-face encounter with an exotic animal seems impractical.

Third, the tranquilizing effect is not immediate.  It can take up to 20 minutes for the animal to fully succumb to the medicine.  In the meantime, that creature would be moving around and potentially in a more aggressive mood from being shot with a dart.

Fourth, in the Zanesville scenario, the event happened at dusk.  The lag time between getting a dart in an animal and rendering them into unconsciousness meant the responders would not be able to easily track a darted animal.  So there was a high probability a darted animal would awaken later in the night and roam further, posing a higher risk of potentially dangerous human-animal interaction.

As much as I would have preferred police to have attempted tranquilizing over bullets, it seems an unacceptable risk.  It was not only humans who were in danger, but livestock on neighboring farms as well.

Next: Understanding Terry Thompson

Photo credit from Flickr: OZinOH

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10:26PM PDT on Mar 18, 2014

Such a sad story!

6:53PM PDT on Aug 20, 2013

This broke my heart. Such a horrific killing spree. It still brings tears.

4:23AM PDT on Apr 29, 2013


3:53AM PST on Jan 15, 2013

A beautifully written article, thanks. I was especially interested in the input from his fellow Viet Nam vet.

3:33AM PDT on Sep 26, 2012

I understand that Thompson was mentally ill, but why release the animals he was supposed to have loved and cared about? He must have known what would happen to them. He was also charged with animal abuse in 2005 so why was he allowed to own any animals at all after that?

Of course the authorities are to blame here for allowing exotic animals as pets. These animals were kept in small cages, which is unacceptable for any animal, let alone big cats. Hopefully John Kerry's bill will succeed and the ownership of exotic animals by private citizens will be a thing of the past.

And yes, why does it always take a tragedy of this magnitude before something is done about the situation?? Lawmakers and politicians have a lot to answer for.

8:29PM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

Very sad.

4:58PM PDT on Aug 9, 2012

Just seen documentary about this, it was nothing but a massacre and bloodbath. It was an appalling tragedy that was totally unecessary and totally avoidable. Whats also sickening is that tiger are on the critically endangered ist so this should never have bee allowed to happen. they knew these animals were there. safeguards should have been in place, the animals should have been tranquilised, they had a unique opportunity they could have been put in zoos in a captive breeding programme. as for the sheriffs, apart frome one, the rest expressed no regret, they seemed to revel in telling how they shot them, like they were trophies in a big hunt. they made me sick those people are hard hearted bastrds, who have no kindness, no empathy, no heart and no soul. i don't think they will be welcome in heaven, destroying gods creatues. if they want to do that they shoud join the army, that shoud be right up their street!!!!!!!!!!!

3:43PM PDT on May 17, 2012

So pathetc and sad this should never happen

9:33AM PDT on May 2, 2012

I agree with Lovely D.!

7:50PM PDT on Apr 26, 2012

I live not far from this debacle. This could have been avoided.

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