I’ve always been partial to the tiger, that most beauteous and regal of Big Cats. This is, in part, due to tigers being mascots of both my Alma Mater and the Great Corporate Salt Mine for which I toiled for over three decades. Throw in a sugary breakfast cereal, beloved of my childhood, and you have a Tiger Trifecta.
My affection for tigers is also, in large measure, a result of my never having met one Up Close and Personal. For while beauteous tigers may be, they also occupy a spot on the Food Chain somewhat above us inventive and dangerous humans. A tiger has absolutely no compunction about killing and eating said humans should the opportunity present itself. And thus my love for the tiger is a love that I practice at a safe remove.
All of this is by way of prelude to the terrible story of Terry Thompson, who until recently operated the Muskingum County Animal Farm, a private exotic animal preserve in Zanesville, Ohio. Thompson collected unusual and dangerous animals like normal people collect bottle caps or cigar bands, and the state of Ohio, in its grand and glorious wisdom, expressed the same interest in regulating his activities as it does in the regulation of bottle cap or cigar band collections. Which is to say, none.
Here is a man who had been cited for animal abuse on at least one occasion and who had recently returned from a prison stint on Federal weapons charges... yet he was permitted - to the extreme annoyance of his neighbors - to maintain his personal wild game preserve without interference or molestation by the state.
Apparently, the financial and/or emotional burdens of his zoological hobby had become too much to bear. Thompson committed suicide last week... but not before releasing his menagerie from their cages.
Let’s put aside the unfortunate matter of Mr. Thompson’s suicide - a matter between him, his family, and whatever God he chose to believe in - and focus on the beasts in his care. Whether his act of releasing the animals was motivated by spitefulness, perversity, or sheer stupidity, we can only guess... but he had to know that by doing so, he was condemning them all to death.
Lions and tigers and bears, running amok in the Ohio countryside. Of course, they had to be put down. Fast.
During the night after Thompson’s self-destruction, an escaped lion killed a monkey, and bears and lions were charging at horses kept at the preserve, according to Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz.
When the carnage was over, 49 animals were slaughtered, including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, a pair of grizzlies, three mountain lions, two wolves and a baboon.What a tragedy. Eighteen Bengal tigers is over one percent of the total population of this glorious endangered creature.
In a rational world, the state would have nipped this sorry business in the bud, carting the animals off to a zoo long before Thompson became overwhelmed by his debts and other personal demons. Ohio has a lot to answer for... as does Thompson, who, alas, is in no position to say very much at this point.