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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.