FORTY-EIGHT WILD ANIMALS – including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions and two grizzly bears – were shot dead by police today after a released prisoner freed animals from his Ohio game preserve, before shooting himself.
The county sheriff, Matt Lutz, said that it appeared as though owner Terry Thompson opened the cages and gates at Muskingum County Animal Farm before taking his own life. He described the animals as showing aggressive behaviour, which put residents and passersby at risk.
The police said they had to shoot with assault rifles and did not have time to obtain tranquilizer darts. They had to take quick action in the darkness of the forest where the animals were roaming.
There are approximately 3,200 tigers left in the wild and efforts to conserve the animal are at a critical stage. Grizzly bears are also endangered and the number of lions is in decline.
The BBC reported that only six of the animals were saved and taken to Columbus Zoo and only two animals remained unaccounted for – a wolf and a monkey.
Terry Thompson had been freed from prison just a month ago, after serving a year for the possession of unregistered guns. Lutz said that no suicide note was found and the police had received complaints about the animals since 2004.
The BBC reported that Thompson had been discovered by authorities to have been keeping animals in unacceptable conditions on two occasions.
In 2005, Thompson was sentenced to six months’ house arrest for cruelty to animals, amongst other charges.
A lady whose father’s property is next to the reserve, said that the Farm often had animals escaping and she even witnessed camels grazing on the side of a freeway.
How was this man allowed to be in charge of such a large animal preserve?
The United States is the main destination for exotic and endangered animals. Yet, the country poorly regulates the possession and trading of exotic animals and Ohio has the weakest guidelines in place. In fact, a permit is not even required to keep a non-domestic animal.
In 2010, National Geographic reported that for every tiger or lion trapped in a zoo, “there may be as many as 10 privately owned” in the States. They also stated that around 5,000 tigers were kept in private homes. Since exotic animals are not as easily taken care of as domestic pets, many are kept in unacceptable conditions. And there is no monitoring in place that indicates how many of the animals end up being sold in illegal trading after they die.
There have been many reported cases of wild pets attacking their owners, for which the animal is shot dead even though it was being kept in an unnatural environment.
The incident in Ohio indicates a need for the government to strengthen their laws for the protection of animals, as well as its people.
Read my feature for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) here: www.eia-international.org
– Monica Sarkar
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