Weird Nature The Strange, Sordid Tale Of The Zanesville Zoo Escape  

Rachel Souerbry
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In 1977, Terry Thompson bought a tiger cub named Simba for his wife; it was the beginning of the end. Terry and his wife had acquired dozens of exotic animals by the time of his death on October 18th, 2011, most of which were unleashed on the rural town of Zanesville, OH. Thompson, experiencing what people believed was severe depression, killed himself after releasing 49 of the 56 exotic animals in his collection. In the following chaos, all 49 were killed; 18 tigers, 17 lions, eight bears, three cougars, two wolves, one baboon, and one macaque.

The Zanesville animal massacre had such an impact on the general public that the legislation regarding keeping exotic animals as pets was changed within a year, putting stricter regulations on owners. In the aftermath of the Zanesville animal escape, one local made a profound observation: "I don't like animals but I would never hurt one. The animal lovers are the ones that hurt them." After the tragic loss of so many animals, we can only hope that Americans continue to learn the true dangers about keeping wild animals as pets - no matter how much they love them.

There Were Plenty Of Warning Signs Of Thompson's Impending Suicide


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Photo: Big Cat Rescue/Youtube

Terry Thompson was a Vietnam veteran; during his time in the military he had seen things that, his childhood friends say, changed him deeply as a person. He was also a gun lover and salesman, and in 2008 his home was raided by the ATF; over 100 weapons were seized and he spent a year in jail. When he got out, he received an anonymous letter that his wife had not been faithful to him while he was away. Although they had been experiencing problems in their marriage of 40 years, it may have been the final straw.

The animals were being kept in foul conditions, which horrified the responders to the farm on that fateful day. He had been reportedly experiencing financial problems, which had led to him not being able to provide proper care.

In the weeks leading up to his death, he was quoted by multiple people as saying things that implied he was going to kill himself, and possibly his wife. When asked how he knew Marian had been unfaithful, his response was ominous: "Well, I have a plan to find out, and you will know it when it happens." He also told a close friend that he was "going to die."

He Killed Himself After Releasing As Many Animals As He Could


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Photo: Jim Stilwell/Youtube

When a loose lion and bear were seen by Thompson's neighbors, the first thing they did was call him - but no one answered the phone. Terry had released 49 of his 56 exotic animals, before putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. 

He had used bolt cutters to open the cages, setting his collection of beautiful but dangerous beasts free. Whether that act was out of love, malice, or showmanship, the police may never know.

Law Enforcement Were Given The Order To Shoot On Sight


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Photo: JoeExoticTV/Youtube

Police received a call from Terry Thompson's neighbor about a loose bear and lion, and after that the evening descended into complete chaos. Officers shot and killed 48 exotic animals, one right after the other. Their accounts of the evening capture the panicked atmosphere and the seriousness of the situation.

"An African lioness crawled under the livestock fence and ran south down the road then headed toward someone's home, so he shot her before she could go farther. Then he turned back, intending to deal with a black bear and a tiger along the roadway, but he was distracted by a cougar heading south, so he followed the cougar into another driveway where he met a male African lion coming the other way. He shot the lion while some other deputies shot the cougar. Soon he was instructed to patrol the border between the Thompson property and Interstate 70, and over the evening he shot another wolf, two more lions, a tiger, and - later on, after its hiding place was revealed by a fireman's thermal-imaging camera - a grizzly bear. That's what it was like."

One Of The Animals Ate His Genitals


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Photo: Big Cat Rescue/Youtube

When Terry's body was first spotted, there were still big cats close enough to him to prevent law enforcement from getting too close. It turns out, they had been making one last meal out of their owner. Terry had several wounds across his body, but one of the most gruesome was described by the coroner: "a 5 3/4 x 4 inch gaping laceration involving the pubic region and bilateral medial thighs with the absence of genitalia, exposure of the pubic bones and adjacent soft tissue."

What that essentially means is that his genitals were completely eaten away, most likely by one of the tigers.