Muskingum County took a walk on the wild side this week.
An animal farm near Zanesville housed a wide variety of exotic and dangerous animals, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears.
For animal lovers it was a virtual paradise. That paradise quickly and disturbingly turned into a nightmare. As many as 48 of those animals gained freedom, for many tragically short-lived, as their cages were left open and the fence around the compound left unsecured.
The scene took on an even more bizarre look as the animal farm’s owner Terry Thompson was found dead at the scene. It was later discovered he set the animals free before killing himself.
As nature would have it, the animals fled the property to the surrounding areas. Authorities immediately began stalking down the creatures and killed many of the animals.
Such wildlife slaughter is tragic. The animals were simply following their instincts, although they posed obvious and imminent danger.
Fortunately, other than Thompson, no human life was lost. That is a blessing and a credit to those stalking the animals, as well as officials who closed three school districts in Muskingum County while also warning residents and motorists of the abounding peril.
Many questioned why the animals were not tranquilized rather than killed, avoiding the death of some priceless animals.
Jack Hanna, of television fame and also Columbus Zoo director emeritus, said such an approach is not possible at night time, as it puts rescuers in harm’s way. That being the case, authorities should be commended for their response effectiveness.
The entire unfortunate episode, however, is one that possibly could have been averted.
Ohio is noted for having some of the nation’s weakest restrictions on exotic pets. Not surprising, the state also ranks among the highest in the nation in injuries and deaths caused by such animals.
Moreover, this is not the first time animals have escaped the Eastern Ohio property.
A tragedy of major proportions was luckily avoided in Muskingum County. We believe it is time for state wildlife officials and legislators to tighten up exotic pet laws to ensure a similar episode does not reoccur.