Lions and Tigers and a Monkey with Herpes, oh my!

 Crazy Animal Escape Story Out Of Ohio

I'm sure most of you heard about this story today.  A guy with a "wild animal rescue" farm released all his animals then killed himself.  Local police had to kill the vast majority of the animals in the interest of public safety.  There's a lot of internet chatter, both from those who said they shouldn't have killed them, and those who wished they could have been in on it.  Famous animal guy, Jack Hannah, came out in support of the police actions.  The best count I've seen is: 18 tigers, 17 lions, 6 black bears, 3 mountain lions, 2 grizzly bears, 2 wolves, and one baboon killed by police; 3 leopards, 2 grizzlies and a monkey rescued and sent to the zoo; and one monkey with herpes still on the loose.

I've actually got a little background in this area.  Back in my misspent youth, I spent a couple winters working with elephants, rhinos and giraffes in a zoo/preserve.  During that time, I occasionally worked with the hoofed stock (zebras, eland, camels, gnu, and Cape buffalo) and the big cats.

So how can we plan for something like this in our preps?

Like so much else, a lot of it depends on situational awareness.  Ohio has no laws on ownership of exotic animals.  Even away from Ohio, you'd be amazed at how many of these small zoos, either legitimate, or private "rescue" places, are around.  There are also traveling animal shows of various levels of quality, and breeding operations.  Around here, I can think of at least five small zoos, three of which are in very urban locations.  The place I worked was very rural, but close to an interstate highway.  We sometimes got animals that Fish & Wildlife seized from traveling shows that did the county fair circuit.  I know of a couple of lions and a hyena that we got that way.  My mother-in-law is a rural mail delivery person, and she has a mountain lion breeding operation on her route.  I used to have a friend whose uncle raised German shepherd/wolf hybrids.  So, step one is try and find out if there is anything like this in your area.

Step two is pay attention to the local news.  The towns around this Ohio situation knew early on to be alert and stay inside.  I can't imagine that the "authorities" would try to keep something like a wild animal escape secret.

Step three is carry enough gun.  Now, I don't know that you can use the excuse, "but Honey, the lion from the zoo 12 miles away might escape and I just want to protect our family," to run out and buy a .460 Weatherby Magnum Mark V.  Although, if that works, please let the rest of us know!  A reader commented on Facebook that a 12 gauge shotgun has been used to take every type of African game.  It would be very reasonable to have a handful of slugs on hand if this is a risk you might face.  If your shotgunning has been limited to birdshot at the skeet range or the dove field, you'll want to practice with slugs.  They recoil far more than shot, and you have to aim more like a rifle.  While a standard 1 oz. rifled slug is always adequate, I'm a big fan of the saboted Brenneke slugs for accuracy and impact.

A lot of folks are asking, "why didn't they use tranquilizer darts on them instead of killing them?"  We had dart guns, but they were only used under very controlled circumstances and always with a veterinarian and a paramedic on scene.  The tranquilizer for large African game was so potent, that if it hit a person, it would kill them pretty quick.  I remember once one of my coworkers just got a drop of the tranquilizer on his bare skin and it started affecting him right away.  From the way this situation was described, it would have put the public at great risk if they had to wait for vets and dart guns.  It's not something that your animal control officers typically carry in the truck.  Also, it also doesn't always work.  Animals frequently die after being darted, or can attack after being darted. 

Despite having darts available, we seldom used them.  Every morning, as we went to the tiger hut to let them out into the preserve for the day, the first person in the door went in with a 12 ga. Remington 870... just in case a tiger got out of a cage inside the hut overnight.  The guys working hoofed stock carried a .375 H&H magnum for the Cape buffalo.  I remember once getting out of the truck to dump the bag of food on path for them while my partner stood by with the .375.  They were just barely off the road in the brush, and were barely visible.  "They" say that Cape are the most dangerous of all the African big 5.  Another time, two of the rhinos that did not get along got out of the house into the pen together and they began fighting - it would have gone to the death.  The director tried to nudge them with a full size pickup.  One hooked his horn under the side of the truck and jerked his neck.  He slid the truck about 25 feet across the ground and slammed it into a wall.  It took two fire hoses, and some 12 ga birdshot to the butt to finally break them up and get one back in the house.  When my place was shutting down, we shipped out animals to other zoos and preserves all over the country, and many of them had to be darted to get them loaded up.  When we were moving the Cape buffaloes I was on .375 duty, in the bed of a truck, poised over the roof, ready to shoot them if the dart failed and they attacked a person.  Luckily, the dartting worked, and they went down with little trouble to be forklifeted into their crates.  Unfortunately, one of them ended up dying in transport.  I just want the armchair zookeepers to realize that using tranquilizing darts is not as easy or safe as one might think.


  1. Just wanted to say that's for the expanded info. I think that tranq darts also need to be calibrated for the animals weight (drug dose vs weight). Another reason they aren't the end-all.

    A related point to the 12ga commentary is that I've read that some African guides prefer a heavy charge of buckshot if they're dealing with predatory cats (lions, leopards etc) in brush. I'd chose OO and hope that I could get a good hit if the cat was coming for me or mine. People say that dogs can be hard to hit, well, cats are generally faster...

    I'd recommend having both some serious slugs as well as some larger size buckshot on hand if you think you could have problems with large and scary wildlife. But since both of these types of loads are also home defense ammo they can do double duty, unlike a 460 Weatherby.


  2. Right on on the OO Buck, Steelheart. That is a good point of clarification. We used OO when entering the tiger hut each morning for just that reason. I was thinking slugs for some of the tougher skinned critters, but there weren't any in this story. You're also right on the part about calibrating the tranquilizer for animal weight.


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