In a hunt that began Tuesday night and upset animal lovers around the nation, Zanesville, Ohio sheriff deputies shot and killed dozens of roaming exotic animals, including 18 rare Bengal tigers, 16 lions, six black bears, two grizzlies, three mountain lions and a baboon. Only six animals were captured alive.
A petition was created six months ago that called on Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich (R) to ban the sale of exotic animals. After Wednesday’s deaths, that still-unanswered petition has taken on a new life, with some 35,000 signees.
The animals belonged to 62-year-old Terry Thompson, who set them loose and then shot himself Tuesday. Thompson had previously been fined for animal cruelty and setting his animals loose, and spent time in prison for gun violations.
“As this morning's devastating loss of animal life in Ohio has shown, Ohio has a horrible record of protecting exotic animals,” the petition read Wednesday. “Ohio is one of the few states that doesn't regulate private ownership of dangerous animals and that leads to tragic loss of life like it did today. We hope that today's tragedy can be a turning point.”
While Ohio has one of the most poorly regulated markets, private collectors like Thompson actively trade in exotic animals all over the United States.
“You can find absolutely any animal on the planet for sale in the U.S.,” Bryan Christy, author of the 2009 book “The Lizard King,” an exposéof wildlife trafficking, told the Post.
Exotic animals can be bought online, at Web sites such as exoticanimalsforsale.net , in classified newspapers like the Animal Finders Guide, and at markets like Lolli Brothers Livestock Market in Macon, Mo.
And yet Ohio remains among the biggest, most uncontrolled markets.
A 2011 documentary that chronicles the unregulated exotic animals market, Michael Webber’s “The Elephant in the Living Room,” focuses on Ohio.
“After watching Michael Webber’s alarming documentary... you would be forgiven for believing that the State of Ohio is just one enormous, unfenced zoo,” The New York Times wrote in a review.
One of the main teachings of the film is that the people who own exotic animal farms believe that their ferocious big cats are as harmless as kittens.
Thompson was no different. He had been kicked out of the local pet fair more than once after bringing exotic animals that snarled at children. When chastised by police, Thompson contended that his animals were just as harmless as the puppies at the fair.
Ohio has already tried to crack down on the market, with former governor Ted Strickland (D) having signed an emergency order last year banning the sale of many large and dangerous animals in Ohio.
But when Kasich took office he failed to extend the ban. Kasich’s spokesman Rob Nichols called the order “unenforceable.”
A state task force, however, is expected to issue new recommendations in 30 days.
“For 200 years, we haven’t had anything,” Nichols told The Post, acknowledging a new law is needed. “It’s a problem.”