The Story of Zanesville

On October 18, 2011, Terry Thompson, a private owner and collector of exotic animals in Zanesville Ohio, released 56 of his lions, tigers, leopards, cougars, wolves and bears before committing suicide the night before. The carnage was over, 49 animals killed, including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, a pair of grizzlies, three mountain lions, two wolves and a baboon. The tragedy brought to light a need for stronger regulations in the interest of human safety and highlighted the captive wildlife crisis in America. Thousands of wild cats are kept in backyards all across America.[1]

Most people were shocked to learn that Thompson, a convicted criminal, could have a back yard full of the world’s most dangerous predators with no government oversight. Ohio had no state laws restricting such behavior. And Thompson did not have the USDA license he was required to possess in order to exhibit his exotic animals. Despite often being in the local news for exhibiting his animals at schools, he was never forced to comply.[2]

“Surprisingly, while some state regulations make big cat pet ownership difficult, keeping big cats as pets or for mere profit is generally legal in the United States,” said Tracy Coppola, IFAW US Campaigns Officer.  “As a result, casualties and dangerous incidents continue to pile up.”

On May 15, 2013, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) introduced H.R. 1998, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act to prohibit the private possession and breeding of big cats. The bill will insure that lions, tigers and other dangerous big cats – which are kept as pets and exploited in roadside zoos and traveling exhibits – do not threaten public safety, diminish the global big cat conservation efforts, or end up living in deplorable conditions where they can be subject to mistreatment and cruelty.

 The bill would make it illegal to possess any big cat except at accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries where they can be properly cared for and sheltered, and would only allow breeding at accredited zoos, along with some research or educational institutions. Current owners would be allowed to keep the cats they currently have provided they register their cats with USDA but they would not be allowed to acquire or breed more. This “grandfather” clause is necessary because there is no place for the animals to go if owners were forced to give them up, and the prospect of confiscation might create an incentive to kill animals and illegally sell their parts. Violators of the law could have their animals confiscated along with any vehicles or equipment used to aid in their activity, and could face stiff penalties including fines up to $20,000 and up to five years in jail.[3]

The Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act has yet to be passed and there are still thousands of big cats being exhibited on roadsides, living in confined cages and in deplorable circumstances across the United States of America. This feature length documentary will shed light on this heart touching issue and provide a voice for these majestic creatures.