Ohio zoo escape: Should authorities have shot the animals?

An exotic-animal owner frees dozens of lions, tigers, and bears to terrorize Zanesville, Ohio, then shoots himself. Officials respond, controversially, by killing the animals

A slew of dead animals are seen on Terry Thompson's property
(Image credit: REUTERS/Matt Sullivan)

The town of Zanesville, Ohio, was transformed into a "hallucinatory scene of slaughter" on Tuesday and Wednesday, after local law officers hunted down and killed 49 exotic animals released by their owner. Terry Thompson, 62, opened the cages that held the 56 wild animals he kept as pets, unlatched the gates to his 73-acre farm, then shot himself in the head. Among the animals gunned down under Sheriff Matt Lutz's "shoot to kill order" were 18 endangered Bengal tigers, 17 lions, and six black bears. Six of the seven remaining animals were captured alive, and the last — a monkey — is believed to have been eaten. Animal rights advocates, and animal lovers generally, criticized Lutz's kill order, saying that more of the animals should have been captured alive. Did the police really have a choice?

This massacre was senseless: The "wildlife slaughter on the streets of Ohio" is nothing short of "appalling," says Will Travers at CNN. It's great that no humans were injured, but that doesn't make it right that 49 "wandering animals, confused by their sudden and unfathomable 'freedom,' were shot dead as though they were alien invaders." They're not. Wild animals "are just as entitled to live freely on this planet as we are," and Ohio has to step up its lax laws to reflect that.

"Ohio tragedy shows wild animals belong in the wild"

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The police had no choice: "It's heartbreaking to think of those beautiful, powerful creatures being killed at human hands," but that was the only real option, says Julie Ryan Evans at The Stir. Tranquilizer guns proved ineffective — and in some cases, weren't even available. Letting these deadly, scared beasts kill or maim humans would have been unacceptable. "Kudos to the town's police department for doing the difficult," thankless work of protecting the terrified populace.

"Zanesville, Ohio, menagerie massacre was tragic but necessary"

Blame Thompson — not the cops: If you listen to the 911 calls, the neighbors sound "sound more put out than terrified," says Seth Abramovich at Gawker. And who can blame them? Thompson — fresh out of federal prison for gun violations and reportedly distraught over his wife leaving him — put their lives in danger. But what makes Thompson such a creep is that his final act was to "release these animals, who he supposedly loved more than anything, to a certain death."

"All the Ohio animals are dead"

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