© 2024 Michigan State University Board of Trustees
Public Media from Michigan State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

When Exotic Wild Animals Roamed Ohio Countryside


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last October, Terry Thompson released 50 exotic animals on his farm in Ohio and then shot himself in the head. Neighbors soon reported lions, tigers, bears, leopards, monkeys and wolves on the loose, and sheriff's deputies from the city of Zanesville nearby hunted them down in the gathering darkness.

Chris Jones describes those harrowing hours in this month's issue of Esquire magazine. The backlash afterwards included many incensed by the death of so many animals. Much of the anger was directed at wildlife expert Jack Hanna, who argued that the authorities had no choice that evening in Zanesville, and joined the effort to change exotic animal laws in Ohio, though he once ran a private exotic animal farm himself.

So if you own exotic animals, call and tell us why. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, and just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, the latest on Syria from NPR correspondents in Lebanon and Turkey. But first, Chris Jones joins us from the studios of the CBC in Toronto. He's a staff writer at Esquire magazine, author of the article "Animals." And nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

CHRIS JONES: Thanks for having me, Neal.

CONAN: And there is an understandable revulsion at the death of so many beautiful animals that evening in Ohio. But as you describe what actually happened, it doesn't seem like there was much alternative.

JONES: No, I mean, I think like everybody else, when I first approached the story, I wondered why things happened the way they happened. And the more time I spent on that farm and the more time I spent talking to people who were there that night, the more clear it became that there really wasn't any other option here.

You know, I asked Sheriff Matt Lutz, who made the ultimate decision to shoot the animals, you know, was it hard to make that decision. And he said no. You know, decision, in fact, is the wrong word, that it's not like he had an array of options in front of him, and he picked this one. This was the only way out.

CONAN: Well, why couldn't, some would say - why couldn't the sheriff's office have fired tranquilizer darts and captured these animals?

JONES: I understand that question, and again, I had the same notion as I drove to Zanesville. First of all, nobody has, on hand, no small-town sheriff's department, is going to have enough tranquilizer to put down 50 animals. The other thing I think is that, maybe from film or I'm not sure why exactly, but people think you shoot a dart into an animal, and it falls asleep.

Tranquilizers are very tricky to use. Darts don't behave like bullets. You need different amounts of tranquilizer depending on the animal, depending on the size of the animal, depending on whether the animal has eaten recently. If you give them too much tranquilizer, you kill them; if you give them not enough, you enrage them.

And on top of all of that, it still takes 10 or 15 minutes for the animal to fall asleep. And when the sheriff arrived - I mean, these animals were leaving the farm. I think sometimes people think that they were sort of in their cages still. They were out of the fence and going down the road.

CONAN: And we played a clip at the beginning of the program from Jay Lawhorn(ph), a former Marine who participated, he's a sheriff's deputy, and witnessed a veterinarian fire a dart at the last of the tigers to be alive, and they hoped that that tiger could be saved.

JONES: Exactly, yeah. The following morning, the day after the bulk of the incident, they found one more tiger in the woods. And they called in a vet, and she fired the tranquilizer and did everything correctly, and it was one of those moments - in a lot of ways, the story is very cinematic.

She fires the tranquilizer. She stays very still. Someone who is with her, one of the officers or one of the caretakers, said you got him, I saw you got him because he jolted. And as soon as that voice rang out through the trees, the tiger got up and charged. And the vet was caught in thorns. She's trying to back away, and they ended up shooting that tiger, as well.

CONAN: And these were - there were many encounters - not just with that veterinarian - but many encounters of people, neighbors, who all of a sudden noticed a lion in the yard.

JONES: Yeah, this is one of those stories, Neal, I think it's - I think when it first happened, I think it was almost - comedic is the wrong word, but is so bizarre - you know, lions and tigers and bears. And I think people, sort of, smiled at it in some ways.

But when you actually go to that farm, and you actually talk to the neighbors or the officers who were there, I mean, it was a terrifying night. I mean, the way I put it to people is you can imagine in D.C., for instance, if one tiger was loose what kind of story that would be.

And here in Zanesville, just because it's a small town, but there are 50 animals on the loose, 18 tigers, 17 lions. I mean, they were all carnivores. It just wasn't – it wasn't fun. You know, one of the officers - I'll never forget the way he said it. He said I want people to know this wasn't fun. Nobody was laughing. Nobody was having a good time. I mean, it was a really long, hard, rainy, dangerous night.

And the way I picture this story is the way I wrote it: You're a small-town Ohio deputy, you're walking through the woods in Ohio, at night in the rain, and you're looking for tigers. It's just one of those unreal stories.

CONAN: And again, the impression some people may have had was this was a bunch of small-town sheriff's deputies, off on a safari, having a great time.

JONES: Yeah, oh for sure, and the officers were very clear, like, they have heard that. You know, the day after this incident, the dispatchers said they received a constant barrage of calls. I talked to one dispatcher who worked an eight-hour shift, and she said in that time, the phone never stopped ringing, and only once was it a call for help. Every other call was someone either from somewhere else in the States or overseas, England, Australia, just screaming invective at them, that they should be shot, that why had they destroyed these animals.

They were very - either all these officers were incredibly good actors with me, or they really, really did not enjoy what happened that night. You know, several of them told me it was the worst call of their life. They described scenes - Sergeant Steve Blake(ph), one of the officers talked about seeing a tiger caught in the headlights of his truck, and one minute it's standing there, and then the officers in the back of the truck shoot, and this patch of fur, like a leaf of paper, just blows off its back.

And for an instant there, he could see the tiger's spine in his headlights. He could see the white of its spine. And he said, you know, as you would, he said I've just never seen anything like it in my life. And he's - in particular he's a guy who really loves animals. And he said these are just such beautiful animals.

You know, you see a tiger in the headlights of your truck, it stops you, but - and then when it falls down, after it's been shot, it stops you again.

CONAN: There was one incident, a group of local - I think it's fair to call them idiots - poker players who decided to go out and rustle up a trophy.

JONES: Yeah, this is one of those - again going back to this story playing out like a movie, if you had the scene where the five poker buddies get in their truck and decide they're going to steal a dead lion, that's when you lose the audience. But it happened.

These five guys drove out to the farm, up the driveway, stuffed a dead lion into the back of their Jeep, thinking they would make a rug out of it, thinking they would stuff it, and drove off. Now luckily they were caught - and again, that's one of those things, you think well, how ridiculous or how just bizarre.

But had they gotten away with that lion, you can imagine now in Zanesville there's a lion missing from the count. You know, the sheriff knew how many animals were on that farm. So if there was still, to this day, this lion missing, you know, nobody knows it's in - you know, under these poker buddies' feet in Cambridge, Ohio - every time a dog went missing, every time someone heard something in the woods, the police are called, and, you know, the phantom lion of Zanesville is to blame.

CONAN: We're talking with Chris Jones, a staff writer at Esquire, author of the "Animals" story in the March issue of - the current issue of the magazine, and we're wondering: If you keep exotic animals, why? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org.

But going back to the subject of this story, we know that this particular man kept them for profit.

JONES: Yeah, I mean, it's not 100 percent clear why Terry Thompson kept all these animals. I mean, he told people that they were rescues, often, that they would have been killed had he not taken care of them. It's technically illegal to breed exotic animals without some kind of permit. But it seems that these animals were being bred.

I'm not sure how many of them he sold or how many of them he kept, but there were pregnant animals on the property. And it's - the way it was described to me is that Terry was almost like the cat lady that we heard about on "Hoarders" or whatever. He just happened to have tigers and lions as his cats.

CONAN: And do we know why he let them go?

JONES: No, and I'm not sure we'll ever know. You know, I talked to a lot of people about Terry and why he did what he did. Unfortunately, the only brain that knows why that happened had a bullet put through it and then was eaten by a white tiger.

You know, he had recently gotten out of prison on gun charges. He'd had all his guns taken away. His wife had left him while he was in prison. His finances were a mess. You know, he was definitely in a spot. Why he did what he did, the optimistic part of me would like to think that he did it because he'd spent a year in jail and realized what a life living in a cage was like.

Maybe he thought the animals would win. Maybe he was trying to get back at his wife. I don't think anybody will ever really know why he did it.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. This is Tracey(ph), Tracey calling us from Sacramento.

TRACEY: Yes I am, no longer in Florida with the alligators. I relocated.

CONAN: And alligators were - well, did you own them, or did you keep them?

TRACEY: I was an alligator wrestler, and it's not much wrestling. It's a lot more tourism and show. And, you know, I used to make my living, you know, doing it. And I changed my tune. You know, I grew up with alligators, always mysteriously fascinated, and any body of water that I'd pass, I'd ask my dad: Do you think there's gators in there?

And, you know, and I had the opportunity to finally live on an alligator farm and put on an alligator a show a few times a day, drive airboats, and I really didn't see it as using an animal. You know, I thought it was a little more symbiotic than it was, and I've changed my tune. I really don't - I'm not a proponent of that. I don't think that animals should be kept in cages.

I don't think that that's what they're put on this Earth for, and I don't think humans are put on this Earth to exploit them, either, so...

CONAN: And that goes from the - well, I'm not sure what kind of alligator farm you worked on, but some of it pretty hurly-burly - but all the way up to Sea World.

TRACEY: Absolutely, and, you know, it's easy to justify, you know, the big parks like that, but I don't know that they're any - you know, you hear about the - every once in a while there's a casualty at Sea World and that type of thing, and I - you know, I don't - I'm not saying I believe in God, and I'm not saying I believe in karma, but I think that, you know, it's sort of just desserts once in a while.

You know, I'm glad I never lost a digit. I did pretty well. I saw people that did get hurt. As a matter of fact, the first time I went into the ring was because the person that was supposed to be training me got her finger almost severed. So I had to take over in the next show. And I'd like to say I did it well, but I think I just got lucky.

CONAN: Kid, you're going out there with 10 fingers, and you're gonna come back a star?


TRACEY: Yeah, we had somebody who lost part of his leg.

CONAN: Well, Tracey, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to laugh. Thanks very much for the call.

TRACEY: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: We're talking about events that played out in Zanesville, Ohio, last October after dozens of exotic animals were let loose and new calls to regulate many of these species. If you own exotic animals, call and tell us why, 800-989-8255. Jack Hanna joins us after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In his article for Esquire, Chris Jones describes a scene out of control: Dozens of wild animals set loose in Zanesville, Ohio, the owner dead from a gunshot wound to the head, almost all those animals were killed by law enforcement, some as they ran into nearby neighborhoods.

We've posted a link to that article on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Chris Jones is our guest today. The episode in Ohio set off calls for new regulations on exotic animals, including from animal expert Jack Hanna, who joins us in just a moment.

If you own exotic animals, call and tell us why, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Jack Hanna is a wildlife expert and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio. He joined police on the scene in Zanesville the day after the animals were set free. He's since pushed for changing of lax laws in Ohio on exotic animals, and he joins us now from the Columbus Zoo, and thanks very much for being with us.

JACK HANNA: Well, thanks for (unintelligible). I was there that night, 2:30 in the morning. So we were there, oh, about eight hours after it started, the whole mess.

CONAN: And this must have been literally a nightmare.

HANNA: Yeah, you know, it's beyond a nightmare. It's something out of the worst things in my life, whether it be my daughter had cancer, and she had a tumor just removed this week, those types of things. Or you don't forget the loss of a parent is obviously the obvious thing that happens, but also the loss of a young boy that was three years old in 1972, that lost an arm at one of my places, so I know what this feels like.

And this ranks right up there, obviously in the top five worst things to ever happen in my lifetime as far as the animal world, let's put it that way, and the people world, as a matter of fact.

CONAN: And you know better than I, you've been the source of a lot of anger from some of those who own exotic animals, saying wait a minute, Jack Hanna got his start in our business.

HANNA: Right, that's true.

CONAN: And now he's calling for us to get shut down.

HANNA: Right, well, as you know, with time, things change. For example - let me give you an example, if you can picture this one. About six years, the Columbus - we had the Columbus Blue Jackets here, it's a hockey team, correct? We had a hockey puck going back - you may remember this, you may not remember it - a hockey puck went over the back of the goal there, Mr. McConnell, he just bought the Blue Jackets here, killed a young 12-year-old girl who had a birthday party. It hit her right in the head, the hockey puck.

Now, what happened to all the NHL arenas after that happened? They put screens up behind the goals. You know that if you go and watch hockey. What happened in NASCAR about 15 years ago when a car flew over the wall and killed about 10 people? What do you have now at the NASCAR tracks? You should know that. They have screens up, right?

CONAN: Yeah.

HANNA: So therefore, something happened here in Ohio that was terrible. It's not about what Jack Hanna did in 1972 or what Jack Hanna did in 1982. That was a profession I had. And by the way, all the animals I had, the enclosures I had exceeded any USDA standards. They were absolutely, like, out of Africa, streams running through them.

I mean, I worked for eight years with every single day, without one day off, taking care of these animals. Did I love these animals? I sure did. Do people who have these animals now love them? Of course they do. But it's a love they have, but they're loving - a lot of them, not all of them, by the way, are loving a time bomb, let's put it that way.

Now somebody will say I did this. Of course I did this. I sure did. And I also had my animals taken from me in less than 24 hours after that terrible tragedy in 1972 when a little boy, I had go pick up his arm in one my lion enclosures.

So you see, when it comes to people discussing this to me or talking about animal rights people and/or people that own animals, wild animals, or people that have been zookeepers, I've been in all situations. There are humane societies, I've worked my tail off to help humane societies.

So the point is everyone who is involved in this thing, I've been very fortunate in my life to be a part of. And I know how everybody feels. You know, I know these people love these animals. (Unintelligible), I think it's the elephant in the closet, the elephant in the living room. Have you seen that yet? It's an hour special, where this young man - where this man who couldn't even feed his own face up in northern Ohio had a lion in the most horrid, filthy conditions in the entire world.

And that lion was electrocuted by a wire to a refrigerator after the end of this one-hour special. And he loved those animals. But is that the kind of love you give? It's just like in Zanesville. The wife loved those animals, there's no doubt about that. When she came back and found this horrid thing happened, when I met her, she said you're taking my babies.

If that's the case, and she wants them back, why were they in the most filthiest conditions any human could ever picture animals could be in? And I think your gentleman, the writer at the Esquire, did a great job, by the way, on his article, one of the finest ever read - not just on this incident, but usually you read things that are halfway out of synch - and this was right on along with GQ magazine.

Those two articles are the best anybody could ever read if they wanted to know what happened in Zanesville, Ohio.

CONAN: There are, in the GQ article, it's pointed out, though, that every one of these people, and as you point out there are all levels, every one of these people believes they are saving animals from a fate that is worse.

HANNA: What would be the fate that's worse?

CONAN: Well, where they might have ended up if they weren't right here with me.

HANNA: Well, see, I don't know what you mean by that. In other words, these people, where did they get those animals that love these animals? Did they get them at animal auction? Did they get them from a breeder out of state? Did they get them from Terry Thompson? That's - I mean, they may think that, but do they realize what they're taking care of?

In other words, you can get a tiger or lion - or it used to be, I don't know about anymore - for maybe $2,000 or $3,000 at an animal auction. Sometimes it might be $1,000. And that's one thing. But to be able to - our tiger habitat here cost $2.5 million. Our polar bear habitat cost $21 million.

You know something? I'd have no problem, probably, if someone really had the desire to take these animals and help with saving the Bengal tiger, or this Siberian tiger, whatever it was, if they had about $2 or $3 million. I'm not saying that people have to have money to do this. They have to have money, for example, to have a perimeter fence, to have proper veterinary care, to have proper habitat, to have proper insurance.

There are about six major things in this bill - those are just six of them, there's many more - that we're being very fair, I think to the public. And these people that own these animals, if they want to continue this, then these standards will have to be met so we don't have another Terry Thompson or anyone else like this happen in the beautiful state of Ohio, because myself, I don't want to ever have to go through something like this again.

Now, she wants her animals back. Now, if I were to give her animals back to her, and something happened, what would you think - as what you do on the radio - what would you think of the state of Ohio and the Columbus Zoo if she got her animals back and one of them killed somebody? What would you think?

CONAN: I think you might be held liable.

HANNA: Yeah, you know, you'd probably think that somebody's an idiot here. I mean, where are the laws in Ohio? As you know, the bill has been introduced. It seems like - I think it's been introduced, but I think that's been introduced now. And right now what I'm concerned about is I hope they don't water it down, number one, and I hope, and I pray that this thing will be done in the next 30 to 60 days because we still have, someone said, 100-something tigers and lions out there in Ohio.

You know, that's hard for me to believe, but that's what they seem to know, now, with people that have checked this out.

JONES: Yeah, that's the figure I heard, too, Jack, that there are 20 sort of similar farms to Terry Thompson's in Ohio. And for me, this becomes like - it becomes - sometimes we treat these things like a philosophical or an abstract issue. For me this is a practical issue. I mean, do I want to live next to a guy who has 18 tigers chained up? I mean, for me it just defies logic. It's just so very strange...

HANNA: See, what you just said is exactly right. In other words, I got a call from a guy named Mike Goldberg(ph), he owns Rite Rug all throughout Ohio, a very, very successful man. He has like a Chihuahua as a pet, right. He left here, was on our zoo board years ago. He's in New York City now, living there, partly retired.

He calls me at the Zanesville thing three days later to say how sorry he was. But he said, but Jack, this is a guy who doesn't know anything - you know, he says on the phone, he said: Jack, isn't it just common sense that you don't have a tiger, a lion or a bear or a jaguar, or whatever, in your backyard? And he said this.

Now guess what. He calls me last Thursday. He said: Jack, I'm so excited about the bill in Ohio. How'd it go? What are the new rules? I said: Well, Michael, it hasn't been passed yet or done yet. He goes: What? He said, maybe I'm on a different planet right now. I can't understand why it wouldn't be 100 percent passed if it's common sense you don't have a tiger or lion in your backyard. What you just said is exactly what I'm thinking and what I thought even when I - I didn't - I've heard of Terry Thompson but never knew he had 50-something animals back there.

I mean, it's one of those deals, you know, it's like I guess building bombs in his basement, and people just are used to somebody having guns, I guess, like he was. I mean, you did the story. You probably know more than me. You did your research greatly over there. I mean, everybody just kind of took it for granted that Terry had a few animals.

I don't think Terry knew he had the extent of animals he had.

JONES: No, most people didn't know what he had.

HANNA: Exactly, and as a matter of fact, I don't think this was in your article, I think it was in your article probably, that our veterinarians were called when the TSA, whatever you call those tobacco and firearms people, went up there to bust him, you know.

CONAN: ATF, yeah.

HANNA: Yeah, ATF right. They busted the door in. They told our veterinarians because they heard he had animals. So they told them to stay outside. They kicked the door in, they kind of peek there and see, I don't know, maybe it was a monkey in a cage or two, that kind of thing. They didn't see - they did the back, back there, where a few problems were. But all of a sudden, they weren't allowed to go back in there and do anything because it's against the law for us to do anything.

So they just came back home thinking everything was all copasetic, and then of course I said before, Noah's Ark wrecks right between the number one zoo in the country and the wilds, which is 10,000 acres with some incredible animals on it we have. And this happens between the both of them.

It's like I said: You just said is it a bad dream for me? It's beyond a dream. It's something that I have to live with. I just have done 30-something speeches around this country, even I've been on two other continents doing things, filming and stuff, and if I even have a (unintelligible) hat on or open my mouth, someone says: Aren't you Jack Hanna? You know, why did you help - not help - why did you support Sheriff Lutz' decision to shoot to kill or to - I corrected the sheriff I said can you say the term - when I got there at two in the morning, of putting the animals down.

Well, why did you do that, Jack? And you know something? I don't blame him because what picture went all over the world? As you well know from your article, not one person saw a picture until 4 o'clock in the afternoon the next day because what happened is somebody went up there. We destroyed all those pictures, by the way, except the ones that were involved for a trial.

Therefore, that picture with all those animals lined went to every continent in the world. My daughter calls me from England, who is 42 years old, who did my show with me for many years, crying on the phone with (unintelligible): or Dad, why in the world would you go along with the sheriff issuing that order? Why did you do that?

I said Kathaleen, you don't know the whole story. Why didn't you tranquilize them? I said: If I had 40 tranquilizer guns up there, if you know the story, we couldn't have done anything. It wouldn't have worked. It's dark.

CONAN: All right, let's get some callers in on the conversation. Let's go next to Victoria(ph), Victoria from Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.

All right. Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Let's go next to Victoria(ph), Victoria from Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.



VICTORIA: Thanks for having my call. I just wanted to let you know that this - I'm 40 now. So when I was about 15 years old, I used to (technical difficulty) store, and they used to have a picture of cougars for sale. And I thought that was fascinating. So when I got a little older, I looked up exotic animal auctions online. And I went to Topeka, Indiana, and I went to an animal auction just to see what it was all about and what they had.

And the - they had a lion cub for $800 (unintelligible) the reserve. And they had wallabies. And they didn't have any kangaroos, which is what I wanted to see if they had. And they had hedgehogs, and they had emus. And it was run by the Amish. But what was astounding to me is that I had checked in with Michigan at the time to ask them what do I need to do to have a pet lion or cougar. And they said just have an enclosure. But when I went to Indiana, they didn't require me to have anything.

And I saw the lion cub, and I went to a farm that I knew of that also carried exotic animals. And they had lions and tigers in their barn, in cages, in stalls. And I just thought it was fascinating that why would you buy an animal, even for $800, to put it in a box and let it live there for the rest of its life?

CONAN: So what did you do, Victoria?

VICTORIA: I went, I saw, and I decided that if I don't buy, maybe they'll stop. Maybe they'll stop taking them away from their parents, and maybe they won't bring them to the auction.

CONAN: Chris Jones, this is big business.

JONES: Oh, for sure. It's a real business. And I think one of the things that struck me the most about Terry Thompson's farm is - talking to the vets - you know, just the care for these animals is really, really expensive and difficult to do it correctly. You know, the average tiger or lion eats 15 pounds of meat a day. So you do the simple math. Terry's farm, he had to be pushing 500 pounds of flesh into those cages every day to be adequately feeding those animals. I mean, it's just a massive undertaking.

HANNA: Yeah, you're correct. As a matter of fact, in the zoological world, a study was done where - to take care of the current tigers we have in the 220 zoos - not all those zoos have them, by the way - with the SSP, the Species Survival Plan - we call it the American Zoo and Aquarium Association - to take care of those animals to the year 2050, imagine about $62 million, just the feed and care of the animals, those tigers we have now.

And that's what I'm saying. That's why I'm trying to help people to have the love for these animals, like I did in Tennessee. I understand that love. What type of love is it? Is it love that they can take care of, a love they can afford? Is it love that is correct? It won't harm some people or kill some people? That's where you have to take the love, put that over here and put reality over there.

And once you can - if you look at the reality of the whole thing, with some - I didn't say all these people. With some of these people, you're heading for a bomb going off. That's all. And thank God the Lord was with us on that terrible night of October 18, that all the animals were found.

And you're probably asking the question, real quick - I know – you can get another caller here if you want to - why were the animals laid out up there? Because if you read the stories that have been written, that are correct, the animals are laid out because you're getting different numbers. Someone said there were only 15 tigers - I think it was 19. I don't have my numbers in front of me. There were only 10 lions.

Well, they're more than that. In other words, we were getting numbers up there where animals were still out there, see. So what are we to do? That's why we had to keep them out there. Even somebody came up there that night and tried to steal the body of one of the lions, by the way, that was already shot. And that's why we had to, you know, shut the whole thing down up there. And that's when the sheriff and I decided we're going to dig a hole 40 feet deep and put those animals there.

And I hope someday that this bill, or whoever's bill is, can be named after these creatures that gave their lives. Out of something - somebody said out of something bad always comes something good. And you're right about the auctions. The auctions were terrible. Ohio had some of the - most auctions in each state in the United States, I can tell you now, two or three of them had already been closed.

I really believe this. I have to believe this. I have to believe this because I really believe in humanity, that in two to three years, with the Ohio law passed, which is going to be pretty stringent, that other states will follow. West Virginia's called. Mississippi's called. Tennessee, by the way, has a very strict law right now. And I think if this takes place in our country, that you'll see most of these auctions gone for these animals.

CONAN: Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Also with us, Chris Jones, staff writer at Esquire magazine. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Jack, we've had several emails from listeners asking about this proposed law and how it relates to the savannah cat. And you will also, I'm sure, get calls about how do you define what's an exotic animal - ferrets, for example.

HANNA: Right, right. I wish I had the law in front of me right now because I've been - we've had - our daughter just had, as I said, a cancerous tumor removed this week...

CONAN: Yeah. We hope she's doing well.

HANNA: Well, she's at home now. We got her home yesterday. But - and doing better. Thank you. But right now the bill - I did not see the final bill, but yes, we have different species and subspecies listed. For example, I can give you the ones: the lion, the tiger, the bear, the cougar. I think even rhino were in there. Wolves. I think wolves are in there. Primates are in there. We did not put poisonous - you know, right now there are quite a few snakes.

You know, one thing about that is the fact that - that's another story. Right now most of those breeders are very reputable breeders, believe it not, in the snake world. But right now, that's not our concern. Our concern is the big ones. You can (unintelligible) the snake in a box and you can't find out where that thing goes.

But right now our concern is the fact that we have to take the mega - the animals, the mega animals. Now, is it going to be an ocelot or something like that? I guess that's in there as well. I have a person sitting across from me right now, just, you know, helping me with - 'cause I don't know the whole - the bill is, you know, like, 25 pages.

CONAN: Sure.

HANNA: So it lists all species, subspecies, that type of thing, of these animals that can do bodily harm to somebody. That's basically the animals that are listed.

JONES: That would be my line. Can it eat me? That's my line.

HANNA: But you know something about a ferret, though? It's amazing because about eight years ago - this is a terrible thing that happened here in one of our counties right here in - near Columbus. A lady who was - didn't have anything, basically left her child - this is terrible, I know, but people need to hear this. Less than a year old, like - I'm sorry, six months old (unintelligible) in the crib and the ferret had not been fed, and you can imagine the rest of the story.

CONAN: Yeah.

HANNA: And I saw pictures. That's a ferret. Now, I'm not knocking, Neal, all the ferret people calling on the phone right now, all right. I know people that raise ferrets are friends of mine. I'm just saying, that's an example. Most people have ferrets, do a great job with the ferrets. So I don't need all these letters. I'm just saying what can happen. That's all.

CONAN: So there need to be regulations. Do there need to be licenses? Chris Jones...

HANNA: Right, exactly. You just said that, licenses. You're correct.

CONAN: Just the few seconds left. The upshot of this, did it change your mind about people who keep exotic animals, Chris?

JONES: It changed my mind in a couple of ways. I mean, first of all, I never would have been an advocate of people keeping exotic animals anyway. I didn't need this to change my mind about that. It did change my mind about what happened at the farm that night. And I do want to say, while I've got Jack here, that the officers in Zanesville loves you, Jack. They know that you've taken a lot of heat over the last little while, but they appreciate it so much, the - you know, you having their back. And they - I got to say, they impressed the heck out me. I thought they were great guys who did amazing things under terrible circumstances.

CONAN: Chris Jones wrote the article "Animals." It's in the March issue of Esquire magazine. He joined us from the CBC studios in Toronto. Thanks very much.

JONES: Thank you, Neal.

HANNA: Hey, Chris. By the way, thank you, Chris, for doing the article. There's a lot of things happen in this world, that was absolutely right on point.

CONAN: Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. He joined us from there. We thank him for his time. And when we come back, an update on the situation in Syria. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Journalism at this station is made possible by donors who value local reporting. Donate today to keep stories like this one coming. It is thanks to your generosity that we can keep this content free and accessible for everyone. Thanks!