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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wild Animals On The Loose

Apparently this story has been a big news event overseas and not just here in the US.  The owner of a private zoo in Ohio released all of his animals before killing himself.  Lions, tigers, bears (oh, my!) were roaming around and authorities had to kill most of them.  This was tragic, and bothered Olivia enough to email me.

I'm particularly saddened by this situation. Everyone on the news appears to be saying that it was the best thing to do to shoot and kill all these escaped animals as opposed to tranquilizing and relocating them elsewhere. I understand how incredibly dangerous it is to have bears and lions on the loose, but is it true that tranquilizing them 'excites them and causes them to go and hide'? I wish there had been a better way. I'm especially angry seeing this mans cruel past with animals. It's worrying that people like him are allowed possess animals, especially ones of this nature.

Personally I'm not a big fan of private zoos, even though I have known some well-run ones over the years. In the US (as is likely true in most countries) you have to have special permits to have "wild" or exotic animals in captivity.  These permits mean that you have to be inspected and approved by the government, and the government does have some oversight.  There are a lot of laws that regulate such animal ownership.  Zoological organizations and state-run zoos are not exempt from potential neglect or abuse, but I do feel like they have more oversight than a small, private institution. 

Wild animals are just that...wild.  Even if raised around humans, they never loose that wild instinct that can cause them to injure, maim, or kill somebody.  I believe that they should only be kept in captivity for purposes of education and preservation, not just for personal entertainment or pleasure.   I'm not sure if that was the case in this particular situation, but I have to wonder given the man's deliberate release of the animals, knowing how dangerous they could be and knowing that they wouldn't have natural prey around and would therefore likely not survive long.

Now related to Olivia's question, tranquilization is not as quick as people may think.  When a tranq dart impacts, the needle goes under the skin and hopefully into the muscle.  An intramuscular sedative will not work immediately and can take more than 10 minutes to have full effect (sometimes as much as 20, depending on the dose and particular drug).  When dosing patients in a veterinary clinic we work based on their exact weight, and the dosage may be down to the hundredths of milliliters.  When you come across a tiger or bear, you're making a guess as to its weight based on averages for the species.  You likely won't have any way of knowing the exact weight, so the dosage of tranquilizer is a bit of an educated guess.  And this means that you may under-dose, resulting in the animal taking longer to become sedated.

The initial stages of many tranquilizers can be excitatory, and vets see this often.  Some drugs cause extreme excitement and dysphoria before the patient succumbs to the effects.  So let's say we get the dose right when shooting a tranquilizer at a lion and it's going to quickly go to about five minutes.  What could happen to it during that time?  Also remember that much of this story happened in the dark and the animal control officers couldn't see the terrain or the animals well.  There was a risk of the animal running away and hiding, falling and becoming injured, or simply not being easily seen by the officers.  

As tragic as this was, I do support the decision to shoot to kill in cases like this.  Tranquilizing and relocating is not as easy as it seems, and there is danger involved to the animals as well as surrounding people.  And as much as I love animals, I will chose the safety of people over that of animals.  The sheriff and officials involved acted wisely to protect their people and the community.


  1. I also feel bad about this situation, but agree it was hard to do anything else with the circumstances (nightfall, not being prepared for so many animals at once, etc.) I wanted to mention that I used to own flying squirrels (a native species to the area I lived). In order to own them I had to have a DNR and USDA permit and I had an inspector come to my house to check on them unnanounced. Our inspector told us that they were so regulated in the state because they didn't want domestic animals intermixing with the local colonies. Our inspector also said that exotics (lions, tigers, etc.) were very much less regulated if at all in some states, (because they weren't native species to the area). I don't know the details of this, but I think it sad that the government regulates little flying squirrels to the max, but doesn't prevent 10% of the worlds pop of bengal tigers from being housed independentely.

  2. As a resident close to this situation, I feel that Dr. Bern's forum is a safe one to add a bit of incite. Mr. Thompson kept these animals for private use, not as a private zoo. Unrelated to the situation, he also greatly suffered from the mental horrors left over from his service in Vietnam.

    Although I too was greatly saddened by the methods used to keep the human population safe, I must add that the first people on the scene were law enforcement officers. Their job is to insure the safety of the community. With nightfall coming on, there really wasn't any other alternative.

    Ohio is a haven for those who abuse animals. Ohio ranks only behind Missouri in puppy mill horrors. Our large Amish population has puppy auctions...there are also wild animal auctions. Very heartbreaking actually.

    What the news really didn't cover a lot is the widow who called the Columbus Zoo and tried to make arrangements to pick up the remaining six animals...including a grizzly bear. Jack Hanna pretty much said, over my dead body. The animals are now under a 30 day quarantine.

    To those who criticize the killing, I ask - would you rather a child?


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