Save the Tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable

Share

By the time the local sheriff deputies arrived at the nature sanctuary outside of the small town of Zanesville, deep in the American Mid-West, the animals had already started to turn on each other. A monkey had been killed and bears and lions were starting to charge horses which had been kept at the reserve. Then officers spotted the Bengal tigers bounding across the plain towards the nearest freeway.

Until that evening, all the animals had been kept in enclosures at the Muskingum County Animal Farm, a private zoo in Ohio. But, that night, the site’s owner, Terry Thompson, who had a history of depression, shot himself. Before committing suicide, however, he opened all the cages to free the animals housed there.

“The animals were on the move and showing aggressive behaviour,” the local country sheriff Matt Lutz later said about the following carnage.

“There were some very close calls.” At times it was almost “hand to hand” combat as his officers put down the animals. Six black bears, two grizzlies, two wolves, one macaque monkey, one baboon, three mountain lions, nine male lions and eight lionesses were killed that night. However, for conservationists the greatest loss was the death of 18 Bengal tigers, one of the world’s rarest creatures. At one point a vet shot one of the tigers with a tranquilizer from 15 yards but that made it go “crazy”, the sheriff said, forcing it to be killed with real bullets.

That night in 2011 was the worst catastrophe for endangered wildlife in the United States in recent history. But what it did was focus attention on a situation that until then had been too easily ignored: the ease with which private individuals in America could keep exotic animals, particularly tigers, often in the most appalling conditions. Now a new law has been introduced into the US Congress, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, to ban the buying of new tigers by Americans other than at accredited zoos or wildlife sanctuaries. Those who violate the new rules would face upto five years in prison. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, has been one of its most prominent backers. “It’s a little hard to believe that there’s a crazy patchwork of regulations governing people who try to keep wild cats as pets,” he said when the bill was submitted. “This bill will ensure that these endangered creatures are kept in secure, professional facilities like wildlife sanctuaries rather than in small cages in someone’s backyard or apartment building.”

 

There are presently more tigers in the hands of private owners in America than there are left in the wild. Many of the estimated 5,000 in private hands are at present covered by no or inadequate laws to ensure their protection. In Ohio, for example, the regulations controlling the buying and selling of captive-bred species was almost  non-existent at the time of the Zanesville tragedy.

Across the Unites States laws vary with each state from no restrictions, to simply requiring registration, to the banning in same ownership of the keeping of them as pets. This means only six per cent of the US tiger population resides in zoos and other facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. In central Texas a 49-year-old women was found trying to sell tiger cubs outside her local Wall-Mart.

Video: 97% of tigers' habitats have disappeared

A recent audit by the USDA found tigers being kept in undersized, barren cages in people’s back yards, or being abandoned at sanctuaries when owners can no longer afford to keep them.  Zoe Taft the director of the Exotic Feline Rescue Centre in Indiana, helps house some 225 big cats once kept as pets. “Most of the people who buy tigers are what you could call impulse buyers,” he warned. “People who say, ‘If I raise a cub, it won’t bite me, will it?’”

The new legislation, which is supported by organisations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free USA and the Humane Society of the United States, has been shown in surveys to be backed by 75 per cent of Americans. If passed, a similar law is to be introduced in the Senate. “As the Zanesville incident showed, it’s critical for America to clear out captive big cats from people’s backyards,” said Leigh Henry, UN Species Policy Expert34 the for the WWF. Tigers pace about in an animal sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. Only 3,200 tigers remain in the wild Tigers pace about in an animal sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. Only 3,200 tigers remain in the wild

How to help:

Text: TIGER 70060 to make a £3 donation

Telephone: 0844 7360036

To adopt a tiger: bit.ly/WWFAdopt

To donate to WWF Russia: wwf.org.uk/protecttigers

This is a charity donation service.  Texts cost £3 plus one message at  your standard network rate (age 16+; UK mobiles only). The WWF will receive 100 per cent of your £3  gift. The WWF may contact you  again in future. If you would prefer  it not to call, please text NOCALL WWF to 70060. If you would  prefer not to receive SMS  messages from the WWF, please  text NOSMS WWF to 70060. If  you wish to discuss a mobile  payment call 0203 282 7863.  Except for the Adopt a Tiger programme, donations made  through the provided links and telephone number will go towards  the WWF’s tiger projects in the Russian far east.  For more details, visit  wwf.org.uk/tigerterms. WWF UK, charity registered in England, number 1081247, and in Scotland, number SC039593.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Benedict Cumberbatch attends a special screening of his latest film The Imitation Game  

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: What's the actual difference between 'coloured' and 'person of colour'?

Matthew Norman
Pressure is growing on Chris Grayling to abandon the Government bid to advise Saudi Arabia on running its prisons (Getty)  

What in sanity’s name is Chris Grayling doing in the job of Justice Secretary?

Matthew Norman
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore