Zanesville, Ohio Massacre

Unfortunately, I knew 7 of the cats that were slaughtered in Zanesville Ohio on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 on Thompson’s property.

Lions – Nala and Mufasa     Tigers – Shylo, Kamal, Tigger     Mountain Lions – Athaena and Goliath who all originated from Ashville Game Farm in Greenwich, NY.

Although I knew the tigers and cougars, I have no photos of them. I was more intimate with Nala when she was a cub and Mufasa who taught Thunder how to be a big cat. They were best buddies.

I contacted Ashville and received photos from them and Dale Coffin who works there. As with any keeper, you don’t think about taking photos as time is dedicated mostly to the job. So, here is what they could find in the short time they had to look. Note that it may take a short moment for all the photos to download. Some of the files are large.

May all of the animals killed in this horrific event rest in Peace.


An article I wrote “A Crying Shame” has been published in the Feline Conservation Federation magazine Nov/Dec issue.

One individual’s perspective on the Zanesville Ohio exotic animal massacre of October 18, 2011

When I first heard the news Wednesday morning about this incident, I got a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. I really didn’t want to listen. I’m extremely sensitive when it comes to an animal’s death, more than with people. I vaguely remember the updates thereafter. I found myself explaining to people why Thompson had exotics or was allowed to have them in spite of his criminal record. I had to explain why these animals were shot instead of being tranquilized and questions I could not answer. I defended the many others who have exotics.

I guess I should explain to you why people were asking me these questions. I was a zookeeper at Flag Acres Zoo from 2002-2008. Since then I’ve been working part-time as an educator for the Pember Museum of Natural History and as a hobby I created educational wildlife programs (Wildlife Education by Bernie) using common exotic animals and animal artifacts. I recently acquired a Canada lynx in June for my programs.

As the days progressed news updates filled the television screen and I numbly listened.

On Friday I visited a local zoo, Ashville Game Farm, to pick up a case of meat for my lynx. I know the owner, Jeff Ash and expected to meet with him as we had talked earlier in the week, but a staff person said he was not around. We made small talk and he asked if I had heard about the Ohio incident. Who hadn’t? I mean you would have to be living under a rock not to have heard. Then he told me that some of the animals had come from Ashville. It was like someone knocked the wind out of me. What do you mean? He said there was an article about it in the Post Star Newspaper out ofGlens Falls,NY. I don’t get the newspaper, so I asked again, “What do you mean?” In that split moment between my question and his answer, my mind started reeling backwards to when Jeff was forced to give up his big cats in 2008. Then the answer came, “Mufasa, Tigger and others.” I kept saying, “What do you mean?” because my mind could not wrap around what he was saying. No, it just couldn’t be true. He said Jeff was really upset. I couldn’t stand there another moment and rushed out. As I was leaving out the entrance, I saw the new zebra looking at me with excitement in his eyes that I might just stroll over to give him a scratching, but I was too consumed with my grief. On the drive home, I tried to remember all of the cat’s names and couldn’t. Another realization hit me, if Mufasa was one, then there must have been Nala, too. Once again, I stopped breathing. I arrived home and franticly began searching my computer for photos. There I was in 2004 sitting with baby Nala on my lap and Mufasa playing with Thunder, a tiger I bottle raised. Tears and lots of them followed.

How did I come to have these photos? Although I worked at Flag Acres Zoo, I visited Ashville on my days off. In late 2003 we loaned them our tiger Thunder as a companion for their lion Mufasa. We felt that Thunder would benefit from playing with another big cat instead of being alone at our zoo with the keepers gone for the winter except for myself. They really adored each other. In 2004, Ashville acquired a cub, Nala. As a volunteer, I would sit with Nala while I was there leash training Thunder. Thunder came back to our zoo in May. I continued visiting Ashville but didn’t think of taking more photos as the cats grew into adults.

I remembered reading on the FCF group message board that names of the animals were wanted in order to honor them. I emailed Jeff my deepest sympathy and asked for his animals’ names and with his reply confirmation of darling Nala who had stolen my heart. My loss is minimal compared to Jeff’s, his family and keepers, but I can truly relate because as a zookeeper, I had raised several animals only for them to go to other zoos and die. So, I know the pain.

The Ashville Game Farm animals lost in Ohio were lions Mufasa and Nala, tigers Tigger, Shylo and Kamal, and cougars Athaena and Goliath. All of them had been painstakingly bottle-raised. As anyone who has raised big cats, they can be a handful. As adults they were still hands-on with the owner, Jeff Ash.

After great apprehension I finally decided to Google the incident’s images which people were discussing and it brought another lump in my throat. My zoo owners retired and closed Flag Acres in the Fall of 2007. Most of the animals were immediately relocated but the big cats took more time. In May 2008 our two tigers and two leopards went to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Sanctuary. This is a really nice sanctuary and although it took the tigers two years to adjust emotionally, I’m confident they went to the right place. However, before that in February our lions, Simba & Sabu and cougars, Amos & Kya were sold to Antler Island Ranch in Ohio. I knew the lions were leaving but when I arrived to work, the cougars were gone, too. Imagine how I felt! I hand-raised and leash-trained Amos. I was a bit mortified. I wrote several letters to Antler Island asking for disclosure of their location, but didn’t receive a response. It was explained to me by the zoo owners that animal brokers keep their contacts private. I only wanted to know in hopes of visiting or sending contributions. For years I have prayed that they’re in good homes. Then I saw these horrible Ohio photos and noticed black-maned lions and wondered if Simba was one of them. Alongside the many death photos was a photo taken by a woman (Jody Porter-Carpenter) of a male and female lion at Thompson’s facility pre-incident. It looks like my lions and now I’m desperately scanning photos trying to compare them. I’ve tried contacting the photographer inquiring about a date on when she took the picture, but she has not responded to my emails. Should I let it go? It’s difficult to let go when a 500 pound lion throws himself on the ground exposing his belly or when a cougar responds to his or her name being called or lions and tigers that greet you with a chuff or rub along the fence to say “hello.” You nurture a respected relationship and become endeared by these magnificent animals. An incident like this pains you beyond explanation.

So, I’m praying that my lions or cougars were not among the carnage. I’m praying that the broker didn’t sell them to Thompson. I’m praying for Jeff and others whose animals did end up at Thompson’s place. These people are probably too embarrassed to come forward and are now dealing with grief and guilt, too.

I have forgiven those who had to shoot these animals. I’ve learned long ago to let go of the anger. Otherwise, it just eats you up inside. I know the difficulty of tranquilizing animals from a zookeeper’s position. It’s easy to under or over dose on a good day, even harder to hit an animal properly in low light, poor weather conditions with emotions running high. Dosage and dart size is based on animal weight and time was not on the responder’s side. Every day I’m explaining this to someone who can’t fully grasp the nature of the event.

Do I think Marian Thompson deserves to get her remaining six animals back? No. I don’t believe she’s capable of properly caring for them. How can she if she’s in debt and the animal enclosures are substandard? I hope she realizes it and allows them to go to places that can care for them.

I’m praying that we, exotic cat owners, are not discriminated against for one man’s hateful actions.

I’m praying for all of us in the animal community for our hearts to be healed.

May these photos replace those horrible images etched in our minds.