Jack Hanna still haunted by exotic animal escape
This article is from 2011, but the real haunting should be that Jack Hanna should have known better than to take wild animals onto talk shows. We believe that it’s a monkey-see-monkey-do world out there and when people see celebrities, like Jack Hanna, taking cute baby wild cats into TV studios, they want to be like that guy, and will pay to pet exotic cats too.
If not for the demand for cub petting, that has been caused by all of the showing off on stage and in film, there wouldn’t be places like Terry Thompson’s in the first place. What is even worse is that DC staffers tell us that Jack Hanna has become the mouthpiece for the ZAA which is a collection of second rate roadside zoos, in our opinion, and as such he has been trying to thwart our efforts to pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
ZANESVILLE — It’s been more than a month, but Jack Hanna still thinks about Zanesville’s exotic animal tragedy every day.
Jack Hanna, of the Columbus Zoo, said the exotic animal escape was the third worst event of his life, following his daughter’s cancer and family friend’s child’s arm being ripped off by an animal.” />
Jack Hanna, of the Columbus Zoo, said the exotic animal escape was the third worst event of his life, following his daughter’s cancer and family friend’s child’s arm being ripped off by an animal. / Times Recorder file photo
The wildlife celebrity and Columbus Zoo and Aquarium director emeritus rates the experience as one of the top three worst of his life, the first being when he saw a young boy’s arm ripped off by a lion in 1972 and the second his daughter’s battle with cancer.
“I think about it every day,” Hanna recently said in an interview with the Times Recorder. “I think about how it might have been avoided. I think about the horrific conditions (the animals) were living in. I think about the sheriff and the SWAT team and those people that had to (shoot the animals).”
On the night of Oct. 18, Hanna was part of a team from the zoo and the Wilds that traveled to Muskingum County to assist law enforcement after Terry Thompson set free 56 wild animals from his Kopchak Road farm before committing suicide. Law enforcement killed 48 of the animals, and two monkeys are presumed eaten by tigers. Six others — a Grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys — were taken to the Columbus Zoo, where they remain in quarantine amidst a legal battle regarding their ownership.
Jungle Jack took some heat for backing the decision to shoot the animals, but he stands by what he’s said all along: Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz had no better option.
“Sheriff Lutz made a decision that was very tough that … saved human lives,” he said. “What’s so sad about the whole thing is, because of everything that happened, this cost magnificent creatures their lives.”
Hanna was born in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1947, but he calls Ohio home. He met his wife, Suzi, when he was studying at Muskingum College (now Muskingum University) in New Concord.
For him, one of the most difficult aspects of the tragedy was how his state was portrayed in a negative light.
“This was not something that was local or state or national news — this was global news,” he said. “I was asked about it in Europe. I was asked about it in Africa. I’m asked about it everywhere I go.”
There is a faint silver lining, however, Hanna said. At the least, there are lessons to be learned.
First is that wild animals are just that — wild — and they can go off at any time. Second is it takes a lot of money and knowledge to properly raise an exotic animal. It’s not about saving the cash to buy a lion or tiger cub — anyone can do that, Hanna said — it’s about having some place to put it afterward and having the proper permitting, licensing, insurance and money to care for it.
Ohio currently has some of the most lax exotic-animal regulations in the nation, but not for long. Wednesday, a state task force — which has been working since June but whose mission was expedited after the Thompson incident — proposed banning “casual” ownership of exotic animals by 2014. Hanna isn’t personally involved with the task force, but he is certain that, once implemented, the new laws will be some of the most stringent in the county.
“And they should (be),” he said. “I do not want to relive this again.”
But no matter the new laws, there still is no guarantee another exotic-animal incident won’t happen.
“Something might happen some day at some zoo,” Hanna said. “We’ve done everything we can do to avoid it, (but) to say something never happened again is impossible.”
Aside from the laws, perhaps the biggest looming question from the incident is what will happen to the six surviving animals. Shortly after they were taken to the zoo, Marian Thompson, Thompson’s widow, drove to Columbus to try to claim them but was blocked from doing so by a quarantine order from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Then on Nov. 23, Marian sent a letter through her attorney stating she wants a hearing with the ODA to appeal the quarantine.
Hanna has no control over what happens to the animals, he said; that’s up the ODA and other authorities. Although he’s only met her once and has nothing against Marian personally, he said, the animals can’t go back to the Thompson property.
“I’m not saying anything about (Marian), I’m saying about the conditions they were in,” he said. “There’s no way the animals can go back under those conditions. End of story.”
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