Zanesville: Heartache and Humor

Posted by: Loren Coleman on October 21st, 2011

The release of over 50 animals and the self-inflicted death of the owner of the Zanesville exotic animal farm resulted in a variety of images, some full of pathos, others sharing some comic relief. The owner’s release of so many wild animals in the midst of Ohio was a death sentence for them. This individual actually carried out a massive murder-suicide plan.

Any notion that these formerly captive specimens might have truly become feral, and then reported as cryptids was not based in reality.

Here is a sampling of some of the recent images that attempted to deal with the outrage.

The need to deal psychologically with the pain of the incident produced the posting of a variety of photographs from other times, other places, as well as the modification of one map from the media’s documenting of the massive escapee event.

Artist Mark Lee Rollins (Thunderbirds, Field Guide to Lake Monsters) moi-modified the above image to reflect some other possible escapees. Others, below, tried to convey other feelings.

Jack Hanna told ABC News’ Diane Sawyer:
“I’m sorry to say, but what the sheriff did had to be done. Otherwise, we would have had carnage out here in Zanesville, Ohio.
“Tragedy-wise for me,” he added, “[it’s] probably the worst thing in 45 years of history of working with animals. … I’ve seen poachers kill in the wild. I’ve seen animals killed right in front of me with their horns cut off. I’ve seen a lot of things happen in my career, but nothing like this have I ever witnessed.”
Hanna said tranquilizing wild animals is not as easy as many people believe.
“I’ve been out all over the world tranquilizing animals,” he said. “Can you imagine trying to tranquilize an animal in the dark. Fine, we have a spotlight. We hit it. You don’t know exactly: Did you hit a muscle? Did you hit a bone? If you hit the bone, the plunger might not work and put the medicine in. So what do we do? Then we send a veterinarian or the sheriff up there to see if the animal is down, right? What’s gonna happen if the animal is just sitting there not even asleep? You’re dead.”
Hanna told Sawyer that when the wife of Terry Thompson, the man who released the animals and then committed suicide, arrived on the scene, she was shaking and angry.
“She said she was coming to rip me apart because I was taking her animals,” said Hanna, who is helping move the remaining animals to the Columbus Zoo in Powell, Ohio. “When she came in there, she was totally not – just nothing was left. Her husband had just committed suicide. … She has 30-something animals laying there in her driveway that are gone. … She was shivering. I hugged her. I started crying with her.
“I could have yelled at her – you know … to lose 18 Bengal tigers in the world today is beyond a tragic loss,” Hanna said. “I can’t describe what that does to me, along with all the other creatures. But when you see a woman that’s lost everything, what do you do? Do I sit there and yell at her? … I sit there and console her and tell her I’m going to try to help her with her animals that’s left, which is nothing, basically. That’s all I could do.”
Sawyer asked Hanna how long the event would stay with him.
“It’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life,” Hanna said. “What happened here last night had to be done or else we would have had some major losses of human life here this morning. And I won’t forget what happened here today as long as I ever live.”

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

22 Responses to “Zanesville: Heartache and Humor”

  1. David Talaga via Facebook responds:

    wow now that insane!!!

  2. red_pill_junkie responds:

    The 3rd image is truly disturbing and horrible.

    What a bizarre news. For some reason it made me think about the movie “12 Monkeys”.

    The 3 last images were a welcome relief, though 🙂

  3. mandors responds:

    Feral? I don’t thinks so.

    It sure seemed like they were able to gun these animals down pretty fast. Two dozen big cats and bears in a matter of hours? I’ve defended hunting on site before, but this, if you will excuse the expression, seems like overkill.

  4. wolfatrest responds:

    It is a tragedy that these animals had to be killed, but logistically there was no possible way to capture that large of a number of animals without endangering the lives of everyone attempting to do so. It’s dangerous to try and use a dart on one animal since there is no way to know if the sedative was injected properly or how the animal would react even if it was. Trying to do so with multiple animals would have been the height of insanity, the drugs do not act instantaneously so you end up with a seriously pissed off animal more than capable of killing anyone near it. I guess he thought that if he couldn’t keep them, then no one could.

  5. coelacanth1938 responds:

    I find no humor in this whatsoever.
    I agree with mandors. This just happened too damn fast.
    This whole incident just smells.

  6. jayman responds:

    I heard somebody say, I don’t know if it was Hanna or the sheriff, that if it had been morning, they may have been able to contain the area and possibly save some animals. They were human-habituated to some degree and didn’t disperse rapidy or widely. But with night falling there was no choice, and everybody seems to be in basic agreement with this, including the animal rights community.

    The greatest loss is of the tigers, which must have represented a significant percentage of captive tigers in the US, if not the world. Does anybody have any figures on this?

    If this “compound” had been raided as it should have been long ago, it’s not clear what would have happened. Nearly 60 large exotics would have presented a huge logistical problem. It would have been far beyond the capacity of the Columbus Zoo, or any other. The animals would have had to be quarantined, etc. My guess is most of them would have been put down anyway, probably all of the lions, since American zoos are up to their necks in lions. But probably at least some of the tigers could have been saved.

    There are many unanswered questions here, and I hope answers are forthcoming.

  7. omne51 responds:

    I’d like to address this from a Law Enforcement perspective.

    In all truthfulness, the number of Law Enforcement agencies that have access to “dart guns” is relatively small. It is entirely likely that the Deputies didn’t even have access to these tools, much less the training needed to use them. With only an hour to go before dark, and such a large number of animals, the decision needed to made, and quickly. And I would be willing to bet the Deputies involved did not enjoy dispatching these animals, and may be suffering from some emotional turmoil of their own as a result.

    To the comment regarding the animals likely not going “feral,” I guess I see where you are coming from, but keep in mind that one of the released monkey’s had already, in that short time, been found to have been killed by one of the large cats. Given this, there was already evidence that at least one of the large cats was aggressive. How in the world is a Deputy, untrained in these matters, to determine which one of the dozens it was?

    Consider if the Sheriff had delayed his decision, and even one person was harmed or killed. Tell me, would it be acceptable, in your opinion, for someone to be hurt by one of these animals? Remember the monkey… at least one of the animals was already showing the capacity to kill!

    Don’t be so quicky to point fingers at the Deputies. Assign blame where it truly lies… with the man who released these animals prior to killing himself. Clearly he was not in his right mind. Mental illness is a terrible thing.

    There are no winners here. The Deputies were doing the best they could, with limited resources, limited time, no training in this area, and a bad situation that looked to get much, much worse.

  8. Zachary Feador via Facebook responds:

    There is nothing good to report on this story. The destruction of 18 tigers, one of the most endangered species in the world, is nothing short of tragic. I was initially very mad that they killed the animals, but in talking with others, I have really found it to be much more appropriate to be mad that this event could even happen in the first place. I live in Cleveland, OH and am ashamed that Ohio has some of the worst animal rights laws in the nation. There is absolutely no way anyone but a zoo should be allowed to own a single tiger, let alone 18 of them. These animals should have never been killed because they should have never been in possession of this man. To make matters worse, this man had been charged with animal cruelty on several occasion, yet within the state laws he was still entrusted with the care of more exotic animals than most zoos. Former Governor Strickland passed a law to try and correct this situation, but Ohio’s current governor has been more busy with cutting off funding to schools and let this law slip away. It is beyond asinine that any man should have been allowed to own these animals. This whole situation should have never happened if the law makers in Ohio would have had an ounce of common sense.

  9. pumpkinlettuce responds:

    Loren, thank you for mentioning this tragedy. People listen to you and take the time to read your articles.
    As someone from the central Ohio area who liked visiting Zanesville a few times a year (for shopping, mostly :P) this is rather close to my heart. I’m glad people here understand that shooting to kill was the only option. As to the response time of the officers, the initial callout came at 5:39 pm approx when a neighbor reported a lion laying outside his horse fences and another person called in to say wolves were near the interstate. As they came upon the scene they saw dozens of large, wild animals running every which way and did what needed to be done to contain them. The outer fence which ran around the propery was no more than wooden logs on top and two horizontal rows barbed wire, at standard height of around 3 1/2 feet. There weren’t many officers at first and they had to stop the animals with nothing more than their sidearms at very close range and make no mistake, throughout the night there were many close clals including an attempt to tranquilize a full-grown bengal tiger. You understand that a rural town in Zanesville does not equip every officer with enough tranqs to take down 50 animals. What little amount they had was saved for the animals they did not initially take down in case they made their way to residential neighborhoods.
    You will never once see any officer, veterinarian, animal specialist, or volunteer taking any pride in having to shoot these animals. Most of them were close to tears while on camera detailing the event. They did what had to be done and they are very grateful there were no attacks on the officers or any residents. By the time the news broke, they had taken down about 25 animals and hunted all through the rainy night out of pickup trucks to get the rest. All animals are now accounted for.
    I do want to clear a few things up here before my comment gets wayyyy too long. There were six surviving animals, among them three leopards, a grizzly, and I believe two monkeys. They are quarantined at the Columbus Zoo and their relocation is yet to be determined. There have been a couple reports of negative behavior, never by any authority figures. There was an instance of people trying to capture a live lioness (they were apprehended) and people asking for the animals’ carcasses which were buried on the property at the owner’s wife’s request. This facility was a rescue shelter, they took in these animals when the owners who bought them at auctions or through other means could no longer care for the animals.
    Also, the sheriff in particular is not happy about these pictures being leaked onto the internet without permission. I understand fully that these images do allow the news to sink in and for people to appreciate the impact but they are investigating the trail and I’d hate to see this site in trouble although these pictures are used in an educational context here. If there are any other questions that you would like answered with minimally-filtered information, I will check back here periodically and help shed some light on the situation. I do not claim to have all the answers but many news outlets misreported facts, mostly those dealing with numbers and species.

  10. recurve responds:

    This was a terrible thing and I also find no humor in it. I live a few miles from the Columbus zoo and the head cat keeper was on the news this morning and said there isn’t a zoo in the country that could handle that number of big cats. There are many private owners that are very responsible and do wonderful things for the conservation of species but without further regulations( and I hate to say this) this kind of thing will happen again hopefully not on this scale. Ted Strickland the former Gov. of Ohio signed legislation before he left office to restrict and enforce the ownership of these large exotic animals but his predocessor gov. Kaisch let the legislation die when he took office it is my understanding due to the states economic situation they have neither the money or manpower to enforce it. There is a big push now to bring it back for obvious reasons.

  11. pumpkinlettuce responds:

    Ah! And as for the humorous side of this, done with the greatest of care, a few people set up dummy twitter accounts such as ZanesvilleWolf and ZanesvilleBear. My favorite is the wolf one 🙂

  12. Loren Coleman responds:

    Yes, recurve and others, while there is “no humor” in the event, the comic relief is psychologically appropriate to attempt to internalized and deal with such a situation. Apples and oranges.

  13. omne51 responds:


    Thank you for your post. It is very much appreciated.

  14. recurve responds:

    I begrudge no one their coping mechanism I’m sure I’ve poked fun at things others have not found funny in the past and probably will in the future. I don’t think i come across the way i want on the net I wish the grays would hurry up and give us some mind transference internet technology.

  15. rozum responds:

    Why did he have to release the animals before he took his own life? I feel sorry for all of the animals that had to be killed to protect the public. 🙁

  16. jayman responds:

    I guess I do feel a little relief in that this was a “situation” and a quick decision had to be made, rather than the cold-blooded killings that would have likely taken place if the property had been taken over by the authorities.

  17. dawgdoc responds:

    As a veterinarian, my first reaction to all the dead animals was shock also. At first I was cynical about the need to kill the animals. After a few days of reflection, I can understand the actions of the sheriff’s department.

    I am not sure that even if the Columbus Zoo was there from the beginning and if had been daylight, that there would have been a much different outcome. I wonder if they even had enough drugs, darts, and guns to tranquilize that many animals over a short period. Some of the drugs used are quite dangerous (a small amount could kill a human), and most of the effective drugs are controlled substances. In other words, it is not like they could just hand out dozens of dart guns to untrained people and expect everything to go smoothly.

    I would have hated to be in the sheriff’s position. If they had tried to capture the animals and even just one person got killed, then people across the country would be crticizing him for not killing them all.

    I think the characterization as a murder-suicide is accurate. Even if Ohio had passed laws to deal with this type of place, how fast could they have really shut it down and sent this many animals to other facilities? If this guy was disturbed enough to do this now, he might have done the same thing at any point in the long process to shut down his sanctuary.

  18. fooks responds:

    that was a terrible tragedy all around.

    they say he was in debt for about $70,000.00! 70k. which might have been a factor but that is really nothing.

    he had 18 bengal tigers! how much are they worth? alive of course.

    and what was his food bill for all these animals?

    it really is too bad about the animals but nothing else could have been done.

  19. coelacanth1938 responds:

    The one thing that bugs me is that the owner was found on top of/close by the heap of chicken parts he was feeding his animals.

    Did this guy want to be eaten by his animals after his death, or was somebody trying to get rid of the evidence?

  20. pumpkinlettuce responds:

    fooks: yesterday Animal Planet ran a lot of shows about people who own exotic animals in the US and I learned that tigers are worth more, MUCH more, dead than alive. I find that fact very sad. The heads, the pelts, the bones, the teeth, the gallbladder and other organs…they can be worth thousands dead and purchased for maybe ONE thousand alive. People do farm them from cubs just to separate them into multiple revenue streams, as it were.

  21. Raven Meindel via Facebook responds:

    I agree with Zachary. This whole situation was preventable. It’s a complete tragedy in every way. And some of it comes back to lack of funds to have the right people in place to regulate and monitor what is going on with these animals. Something has to change.

  22. kittenz responds:

    Just want to clear something up:

    This was NOT a “rescue facility”. They had acquired a few of the animals as adoptees when someone else no longer wanted them, but the vast majority were either bought at auction or traded for guns or other goods.

    If someone in Ohio had 50+ housecats or dogs, they would be investigated as hoarders. But Ohio had, until after this horrific incident, basically NO laws regulating the sale and ownership of exotic animals, other than requiring permits for wildlife considered native to Ohio. It’s easier and cheaper to buy a lion or tiger cub in Ohio than it is to buy a purebred puppy, and most communities don’t even require that an owner notify authorities or neighbors that they are keeping such animals.

    Nobody knows how many big cats are kept in private facilities and backyards in Ohio. But the number is probably at least in the several hundreds.

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