On the anniversary of the Zanesville, Ohio wildlife tragedy, one year ago today

Today marks the one-year anniversary of one of the most horrific exotic animal tragedies of all time.

On October 19, 2011, I woke up, fed my dog, and started getting ready to leave for work. I remember hearing the sound of rain on my roof and my pup’s nervous reaction. As usual, my mind raced through the list of tasks I needed to accomplish that day.  

I absent mindedly turned on the tv.

Every station was filled with news from the state where I grew up—Ohio. A backyard exotic animal owner in Zanesville had released 38 big cats and 18 other dangerous animals and then taken his own life. To protect the surrounding community, law enforcement had no choice but to kill 48 of these animals. As citizens mourned the loss of these majestic victims, a national debate about captive exotics kept in private hands erupted.

One year later, the epidemic of U.S. big cat possession and breeding rages on.  Thankfully, some progress has been made since that horrific day one year ago.

For one thing, IFAW spearheaded the introduction of the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (HR 4122/S3547) to prohibit personal possession and breeding of big cats, with certain exemptions. Introduced in February by U.S. Reps. Buck McKeon and Loretta Sanchez, and in September by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, this bill is the most important big cats bill ever to be introduced in the United States.

On September 20th of this year, Zanesville sheriff Matthew Lutz joined IFAW as a special guest at a widely attended Congressional briefing to urge the passage of the bill.

As another example, Ohio’s response to the Zanesville incident -- the Dangerous Wild Animal Act, took effect last month.  It prohibits Ohioans from acquiring many dangerous exotics as pets and requires current owners to register the animals they currently own.  It’s not perfect, but as a fellow Buckeye, I am proud of my home state for taking a progressive step forward to protect animals and communities, and I hope other states lacking restrictions will soon follow suit.

And just this morning, in recognition of the one-year anniversary of the Zanesville tragedy, IFAW joined the Humane Society of the United States as a co-petitioner of a formal petition for rulemaking to urge the USDA to ban public contact with big cats and certain other exotic species. 

This effort demonstrates that the prolific cub handling trade drives private possession and breeding of big cats.  

Passing the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (HR 4122/S3547) and supporting the USDA petition is critically important toward eliminating profit-making operations that result in terrible conditions for big cats and jeopardize human lives.

To encourage the USDA to create a bright-line rule that prohibits public contact with big cats and other species, we are collecting letters to submit to the agency. Please consider sending me your letter so I can include it in the official package.


Post a comment


Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy