Humans…we’re animals too, right?

October 20, 2011

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On Tuesday, October 18th, 2011, Terry Thompson, an independent animal preserve owner in Zanesville, Ohio, released dozens of exotic animals before he shot and killed himself. It doesn’t seem clear whether this man was an animal activist, crazy, both, or neither. Due to the extreme tragedy behind the event, I would assume he was crazy. Police advised all surrounding residents to remain in safe places and notify 911 if they spot any of the released animals. Police eventually “captured or killed” all of the animals before any humans were injured. By the end of the carnage, 49 animals were slaughtered including “18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, a pair of grizzlies, three mountain lions, two wolves and a baboon.” The remaining 7 animals were luckily safely captured and sent to safe new homes, a small piece of a happy ending drowned in the overwhelming deaths that are now being referred to as the Zanesville Animal Massacre. Reading this article, I began to think about the distinction we have made between ourselves as humans, and other living creatures. Obviously we live a life of superiority, whether we want it to be that way or not. You can be the biggest animal activist of them all and still be living in the same society as the rest of us, where non-humans are inferior to humans.

It’s weird to me how we do this. I think its an obvious way for us to make ourselves feel important, like we matter. Things will probably always be this way until we (hopefully) find answers to where we came from, who we are, etc. The burning questions inside us all. Yet still, even after realizing that we do this, we continue to place ourselves above other species. For one, we place them in zoos and animal preserves like the one in this article. We continue living our lives without letting animals get in the way; I’m sure most of you can relate to this as you walk through the Diag unaware of the giant squirrels bustling around. The issues I want to address here are whether just because we treat them as less worthy, animals deserve to be treated like, for lack of a better term, “animals.” I also want to discuss whether this changes when it comes to the level of which we “respect” that animal (I’ll explain this further ahead) and whether or not we have the right to kill an animal if it puts a human in danger.

Can't we all just get along?

I’ll begin with my idea of the levels of which we “respect” animals. What I mean by this is, to what degree do you treat an animal more like a human being, depending on which type of species it is. For instance, I bet you’d all have more of this “respect” for a cute puppy than you would for a hungry seagull. What about an insect? Why are insects treated even worse than animals? You can squash a spider without thinking about it ever again two seconds later. I believe when we see an animal/insect, we automatically diagnose whether or not we think they can comprehend what’s happening, and whether or not they have feelings or emotions. The size of the animal/insect has a lot to do with this as well. For instance, you may not be as disturbed by a chipmunk getting hit by a car as a deer getting hit by one. Maybe it’s because our intuition tells us certain animals are smarter than others, and therefore have more of a connection to their lives and families (some of this is backed up scientifically as well, such as dolphins being extremely intelligent). But should that determine which animals deserve to be treated better than others? In a way, I think yes. I mean, is it moral? Not really…but when have humans lived their lives on pure moral grounds? I think that humans choose to live this way, and whether or not it’s moral doesn’t matter. We have deemed ourselves as superior and because we are the most intelligent species, we have secured this position.

Moving on, let’s focus on the actual issue of the article. Is it acceptable for the police to be killing these animals just because some crazy man let them loose? The animals have no idea what’s going on. I feel as if police could have handled this situation differently. Why can’t we take precautions to keep humans safe while at the same time simply constrain the animals to a limited space until they can be caught without severe harm? Police could have made efforts to put out a warning to get somewhere safe and continue to pursue the animals until they were able to tranquilize them. It was reported that police tried to tranquilize some but that it didn’t work, yet my view on this is to simply use more tranquilizers. Bullets were not necessary, end of story. Why is it better that we kill a wild animal than have an accident where a human is hurt or killed by an animal? I can’t say it makes me feel good to to know that no humans were hurt as I watch pictures like this and this surface online. While I understand that safety is a priority for us as humans, I think we should be considering animal safety as well. It’s important to make a clear distinction between why exactly we separate ourselves from other animals. One reason is that we think certain animals are unable to make connections to other animals in their species line; in a sense, we think they don’t understand that they are apart of a family (which we view as an extremely human-like characteristic). We need to come to an understanding, however; while other animals are clearly distinct from humans, we still need to treat them as humanely as possible. They are, in a way, similar to children. While animals and children often don’t have the ability to understand the complex world we live in, and live based solely off of instinct, it’s our responsibility to guide them so that they can live a safe and protected life.

We're animals too, right?

Regardless of the issue of whether we should be allowed to kill animals (pertaining to this particular case), what other things should not be allowed? Should animal testing be allowed? It has allowed us to grow extremely; being able to test cures, consumer products, etc. on animals first to guarantee our safety has been a huge help for the human race. But many are against it. Why should other animals suffer for our benefit? Honestly, we justify testing based on the idea that the animals we test don’t know what’s happening, don’t have feelings, or whatever other excuses we can come up with. In a way, I think it’s smart of us to do this. We need the benefits of animal testing to further our understanding of issues we still see in humans today: cancer, illnesses, etc. My stance on animal testing is that as long as it’s used for the direct health benefit of humans, it’s okay. I do, at the same time, condemn testing for things such as soap or makeup. What about other issues, such as deforestation? We need the resources that trees provide as well as the land that they occupy, but these are the homes to countless animals. Deforestation is also, in some ways, affecting humans negatively. Although we are gaining resources from cutting down forests, we are disrupting the natural order of things and setting environments off balance. Should we again place animals’ needs below our own? Where do you think we should draw the line when it comes to determining “animal” rights? I personally think the line is drawn when we determine the animal’s intelligence as well as their size and ability to feel emotions. The line varies for all different kinds of animals based on the qualifications I just stated. For instance, we have a strong connection with dogs (Man’s best friend, right?), yet we couldn’t care less about snakes, fish, or raccoons (at least I couldn’t).

Another point I would like to make is that this man, Terry Thompson, was allowed to have these animals in the first place because he lived in Ohio, one of only seven states with almost no regulations on owning exotic animals. Why haven’t these states enacted more protective laws? I hope this catastrophe will bring enough media attention to the issue that this will soon change. Recently, Mr. Thompson’s wife Marian has demanded the immediate return of the remaining living exotic animals including 3 leopards, 2 celebes macaques, and 1 young grizzly bear. I think this is ridiculous. According to the law, she actually has the right to take them too. Something needs to be done about this, and the other general animal rights issues at stake. Ohio needs to step up their game (Along with a lot of things: don’t forget about this year’s football game OSU.). Before Mrs. Thompson is granted access to these animals, she should be questioned to see where she was the night her husband let the animals loose. Authorities should also check to see if she’s just as “qualified” as her husband was to own exotic animals. I do have sympathy for the loss of her husband, but at the same time, demanding the animals back so soon is not a safe or smart move.

All in all, while I understand the dangers that wild animals pose (whether intentional or not, it doesn’t matter), I believe this situation could’ve been avoided had Ohio set into place laws similar to other states. I also believe that as humans, we need to start realizing that in the end, we’re just as much animals as the next species. We need to keep ourselves in check when it comes to determining the extent of the rights of humans vs. the rights of animals.

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About danieltarockoff

I am 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Michigan.

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11 Comments on “Humans…we’re animals too, right?”

  1. namin91 Says:

    This case will hopefully bring to light one major fact and that is that wild animals should NEVER be kept in captivity. They are not meant for it and there is really no reason, other than selfish ones, to keep them. There are so many cases of wild animals just going crazy and attacking their owners and, honestly, it isn’t their fault. They simply cannot be taken out of their free environments and brought into captivity in completely foreign places. For humans to think that is acceptable is frankly stupid and disrespectful to animals.

    The only thing I can think to relate this back to from lecture would be the notions of self-interest and greed. Humans often keep wild animals in captivity to make profit by taking the animals to fairs, renting them out for shoots, parties, etc. It’s utterly wrong and criminal to do so. Science has shown that keeping wild animals in captivity is not only physically damaging, but emotionally damaging as well. Regardless of these facts though, humans continue to keep them due to greed and self-interest.

    Going back to this case, I do think it was appropriate for the police to kill the animals. As tragic as it was, they really had no other choice. They did try to tranquilize many of the animals, but tranquilizers do no work immediately and they didn’t have the time to wait. To counter what you said, there was no way for them to constrain 56 animals to a certain area. Trying to do so would have been inefficient and impossible seeing as they probably all went in different directions. Also, the police are meant to protect humans, not animals. So, it was better to kill the animals than have them hurt or kill humans. I know that may come off as very unsympathetic to the animals, but it’s just how I see the situation. I, myself, love animals so I was very saddened to hear of this. At the same time, I don’t think the police could have done anything differently. They were simply doing their job of putting the people first.

  2. aclieb Says:

    Daniel, I think you raise some excellent questions with this blog you posted. In addition, I found the article your blog revolved around to be both interesting and horrifying. Horrifying for both the animals and the people in the surrounding area that could have potentially been harmed by the animals.

    Now being the big James Franco fan that I am, naturally, I saw the movie Planet of the Apes this summer. In addition, being a big Planet of the Apes fan, I saw the new Planet of the Apes movie this summer starring James Franco. It kind of worked out nicely for me. The new Planet of the Apes movie showed how the apes became so intelligent and how they were able to wipe out the majority of humans and reign supreme on earth. The reason I’m rambling on about this is because if we continue to treat animals so poorly, we may have a legitimate Planet of the Apes situation on our hands. Now I know many of you will laugh, but watch the movie! The new Planet of the Apes provides a completely reasonable and logical explanation for how a group of animals could take over. Monkeys are animals that get tested on quite frequently because of how genetically similar they are to humans. We humans see them as an invaluable source of knowledge for when it comes to our own well being by testing on them. I do not think that is right for humans to do and I think it is dangerous. In Planet of the Apes, the apes were being used to test for a new drug that would help/cure Alzheimer’s. Obviously that is a very serious disease that affects millions and millions of people, and to have a cure for it one day would bring joy to and save so many lives all over the world. I, personally, just don’t believe it’s right to find a cure by testing on animals.

    Back to the issue on hand, I don’t think it was right for the police to kill the animals. You saw what happened in Planet of the Apes after the apes escaped, all the cops started shooting and trying to kill them, and everyone knows what happened next. The apes got super upset and took over the world. The lives of these animals are just as valuable as our own. No one has the right to say otherwise. In fact, if we test animals for human benefits, I see no reason why we don’t test humans for animals’ benefits.

    I also believe that Ohio and the other states that don’t have proper regulations on exotic animals should get their act together not allow a man to own bears and cheetahs other ridiculous animals like that. This whole thing should have been avoided. Shame on you, Ohio.

  3. tylerhoffman1 Says:

    The author of this post makes so solid arguments, just because we are intellectually “superior”, why should we be able to control how these animals live? I have a couple ideas that I would like to share.

    Charles Darwin was a English Naturalist who stated that evolution operated on the basis of “survival of the fittest”. Humans, in our current state, are more fit for survival than say ants, thus why we control them the way we do. That being said, it may not be fair, but that is how natural selection works, and why the smart ants build underground! If Darwin’s argument is true, then we can expect to see species like ants and chipmunks start to erode away (or evolve) and larger and more intellectual species (like chimps) start to gain more power and territory on this earth. While it’s equally sad for a squirrel and a deer to be ran over, which one causes more impact for the human?

    When the author talked about the impact of animals on humans, an idea came to mind, convenience. It’s a lot more convenient for the human race to step on ants rather than a hippo, shear size being the key here. This can also explain why exotic animals like tigers and lions are shot and killed, they are no where near as convenient to keep as a pet like a cat. I completely agree that these animals should have equal safety, but it just isn’t convenient or smart for us to treat them equally as of right now.

  4. blakesimons Says:

    This situation was truly a tragic, saddening event on many different levels, but paradoxically, it does raise several intriguing questions. With this being said, I don’t particularly agree with the questions that posed in this blog post. Humans are animals, yes (biologically, at least). In no way am I trying to deny that; however, the argument cannot be made that the value of a human life is equal to a wild animal, let’s say a mountain lion. This is a human world, and while our environment and world would not be able to function without a diversity of wildlife and animals, the world is run by humans. The value of a human life will forever trump the life of an animal, and there are very few people in this world who can deny this logically.

    I’m not promoting the killing of animals or promoting a world filled with animal cruelty. I’m promoting the idea that the life of a human holds immense value. In this particular case, I feel that there is nothing that could have been done differently. The police used tranquilizer guns and other non-lethal ammonization as a first step against the wild animals. When the animals responded negatively and aggressively towards the actions, lethal ammunition needed to be used. Is this ethical? Do these police officers lack morals for killing innocent wild animals? Some may say yes, but how many people holding these opinions would be willing to have a 400-pound Bengal tiger charge at them and while neglecting to use lethal ammunition? It’s not unethical. It doesn’t show a lack of morals. It’s just common sense.

    The questions that this event truly raise revolve around the need for regulations and the need for more protective laws surrounding the possession of exotic animals and wild animal preserves. The owner of the preserve, Terry Thompson, was a convicted criminal. He had gotten out of federal prison just last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns. Moreover, over the years, Thompson has been charged with animal cruelty, animal neglect and allowing animals to roam. There is no excuse that the state of Ohio has for allowing this man to be in possession of a wild animal preserve. More strict and tighter regulations are drastically needed, and that is what this situation so clearly shows.

  5. samyoovpolsci Says:

    It is tragic to see these animals, that were trapped and taken from the natural habitat to simply become a source of amusement, killed when all they did was go back to their basic instincts of fleeing when their cages were opened. However, having said this, if i was a denizen of Ohio and lived around the area where these “wild” animals now roamed free, i would be thinking more of my own and my families safety than that of the animals. I will not say that killing the 49 out of 56 escaped animals was the right choice, but i think it is safe to say that, in the interest of public safety, it was the better choice.

    Also, having done some research on Terry Thompson, it became extremely clear to me that this man was not fit to own a wild life reserve. He was a convicted criminal, who collected wild, and exotic animals as a hobby. He himself admitted that he was having trouble taking care of his collection of extremely dangerous animals (which includes bears, tigers and lions) yet the Ohio state allowed him to keep such animals. This is a problem of Ohio state’s laws for allowing such a blatantly unqualified man to have in possession such dangerous “wild” animals.

  6. madisonkraus Says:

    I think that most of the blame for this extremely odd event falls on Ohio’s failure to enact appropriate laws on owning exotic animals. Although Terry Thomson was the owner, and allowed the animals to be set loose on the town, he was obviously not right in some way, and should have never been allowed to possess such dangerous and rare animals in his backyard. The fact that 49 animals had to be killed, and that 18 of them were of an endangered species (Bengal tigers—there are less than 2000 living Bengal tigers on earth) because Ohio doesn’t have strict enough laws is completely ridiculous. I don’t think that the police are to blame in any way; the animals that were loose were tigers, lions, bears, and leopards who could have easily attacked or killed many humans. They had a duty to protect the humans within their jurisdiction. Had they had more time, they could have tried to capture more of the animals, but as it was getting dark they had to do whatever they could to eliminate the potential for dangers that could have been encountered. Wild animals should not be allowed to be owned by individual people or families like this. Although they were technically on a “preserve” it was owned and run by Terry and his wife on their private property. It so bizarre to me that Thomson could legally acquire these animals, seeing as he was previously convicted of animal cruelty. As this incident demonstrates, there obviously need to be strict standards to who can own exotic animals, and what conditions they need to have in order to provide for them. Stricter laws could have prevented the loss of a huge number of rare animals, who were killed because of an irresponsible human and an irresponsible state.

  7. bmjasper Says:

    Peter Singer answers a lot of the questions that you’ve just presented in his essay, All Animals Are Equal. He basically states that the vast majority of humans are speciesists, beings who allow the interests of their own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. Thus, we only only grant moral consideration to human beings and feel that all other species exist to benefit humans. This claim is further supported by one of a speciesist’s most common practices which involves the consumption of animals as a means of gratifying their pallets.

    Humans tend to grant moral consideration to other species based on whether or not they have the capacity for rational thought. However, animals have other interests so having the ability to think on a higher level is irrelevant to them.

    In my opinion, a being should be morally considerable if they have the capacity to suffer. Having the capacity to suffer is the most logical aspect for determining whether a being is morally considerable or not, because one must suffer in order to acquire interests, and have interests to be morally considered. The beliefs that all and only humans are morally considerable and that moral consideration depends on having the capacity for higher thought are inaccurate because they rely on possessing human capacities to indicate superiority. Adopting a different property, such as the capacity to suffer, to determine moral consideration, has the potential to reorder the hierarchy of moral consideration. Sentient species that are currently endangered would be protected. Beings whose lives are rendered invaluable would be awarded greater respect. The mistreatment of nonhumans sentient beings would be abolished. Ultimately, the world would be a fair, more egalitarian place, quite unknown to the one we live in today.

  8. guysnick Says:

    I think this is quite an interesting topic to bring up on the forum. I agree with the post in some aspects but disagree in others. First, it is almost certain that humans have evolved over the millennia from some type of primeval animal into the homo sapiens that we are today. This being said, we really are “animals too.” This means that we as part of the community of living creatures on this Earth do have an inherent connection to the other living organisms that inhabit the world we share. Therefore, it is definitely important for human beings to generally respect the well-being of animals and the environment as a whole. We are called to be stewards of the Earth, which means looking out for the other living beings around us.

    However, human beings are at the top of both the animal hierarchy and the food chain on Earth. This is most definitely a world dominated by human beings. We are the most developed, the most intelligent, and the most capable of accomplishing an array of tasks. Therefore, I do believe that it is permissible for humans to use other animals for our gain. We run this world and should be able to use animals in ways that help us, from advances in medical research to education purposes such placing animals in zoos.

    With regard to the Terry Thompson story, I think it depends on the judgment of the police officers involved whether or not they should have killed the runaway exotic animals. They are the human beings. They are members of the most intelligent species, and they should have the discretion to choose how to treat these animals. If the animals posed a risk to the community or were a potential danger to traffic flow, and if capturing them was not a plausible option, then I am sure the police were justified in the way they acted.

  9. hannahlevitt Says:

    I could not disagree more with the way the Ohio police handled this situation. The animals did nothing to warrant being killed; Terry Thompson chose to have these animals on his preserve (they had no choice in the matter, right?), and the state of Ohio chose to have laws permitting Thompson to do so in the first place. Therefore, when something such as this situation occurs, it shouldn’t be entirely unanticipated. Things don’t always run smoothly, which is why we have police and other forces in the first place; however, the animals did nothing wrong and should not be treated as if they did.

    When given the opportunity, animals will return to their state of nature. If released from captivity, they will not remain in captivity because that is not where they are meant to be. They are meant to be free, so when they are given the opportunity they will return to that state. This situation of human treatment of animals is almost a power play: humans have the means to control the animals, and animals don’t have the means to help themselves. It reminds me of a prevalent political issue in our country today: affirmative action.

    The concept behind affirmative action is taking factors such as race, gender, religion, etc into account in order to benefit an underrepresented group. For example, if one grows up in a community with considerably less opportunities than other communities, this is taken into account when this person applies to colleges. Perhaps this person does not have any AP credits; perhaps his or her school does not offer any AP classes. Therefore, he/she is given less opportunities than those who attend schools that offer AP classes, and this is taken into account when colleges compare his or her transcript to others’ who have such opportunities.

    Extending the concept of affirmative action to all animals instead of just humans provides an answer to the question of what action to take in situations such as the one in Ohio. Animals are underrepresented in this situation, which should be taken into account when authorities are deciding how it should be dealt with. Humans have the means to control the situation through guns, as seen by the fact that the police chose to kill most of the animals; the animals don’t have such means and can’t fight back. When confronted with guns, the animals have no means of leveling the playing field. By the concept of affirmative action, the animals are underrepresented and action should thus be taken for them to be given equal opportunities, which in this case means life itself.

  10. Patrick Smith Says:

    While you make some interesting points and bring up some good ideas in your post, I think you miss the boat on some things. First of all, as some of the other comments said, you are neglecting the fact that humans are on top of the food chain. We are clearly the dominant species on earth even from the most simplistic of natural viewpoints. There is simply no argument against that.
    Following that point, the animals killed where, for the most part, on a list that nearly every zoo and other animal holding facility has known as the Code Red list. This means that, if the animal is seen out of captivity, as in if they have escaped or been let free, they are considered the highest risk and must be acted on in a Shoot To Kill manner. This is a measure created to directly protect human safety in the area because the animals have been known to attack and kill numerous humans in the area. Some people have mentioned sedatives and we should just sedate them instead of shooting to kill. The problem with that is sedatives are not as easy as you would think. As other’s mentioned, first you need the correct dose or else you wont sedate the animal or you will give too much and kill it. This dosage takes more than a few minutes to determine, and this time was precious at the moment as there were deadly wild animals on the loose nearing dark. Think about the problems that would have erupted if the police had lost animals while trying to determine the dosage and then people were killed?! Another huge problem with sedatives is they need to hit the animal in the right place or else they do not work. It is impossible to tell if they hit an animal on a bone or actually made it into the bloodstream. Thus, a police man could approach a perfectly awake animal, thinking they were sedated, and get killed. The real reason the animals were killed were because they are far to dangerous to not kill. On the loose, a bengal tiger could cause dozens of deaths. And in this case there were over 50 dangerous animals loose. The police had no choice.
    If you want to look at it from the “humans are animals too so we have no right to kill them” viewpoint, fine. Humans, as a species, should be naturally inclined to protect themselves as a species. Sometimes to do this a species must attack and kill another species. This happens incredibly often in nature. In order to protect other humans, humans killed dangerous predators. They protected themselves as animals do. While animal testing and other topics may be a different situation, no matter how you look at it, killing the animals in this situation was the correct thing to do.

  11. mcdonmeg Says:

    I think that the author of this post brought up many interesting points concerning animal protection vs. human protection. First off, I am very surprised to learn that there are seven states that allow people to own exotic animals. By letting people own such creatures, the state itself is allowing possible threats of their citizens since there are many times that you hear about wild animals just going crazy and going against its trainer and then hurting others. I don’t think that states should allow people to own such animals. They are known as exotic and wild animals, because their natural environment is the wild. As much as people want to tame these animals, they are wild animals and therefore people should not own them.

    I thought it was very interesting how you brought up respecting animals and the different levels that people view animals on. I would have to agree that people would tend to respect a cute puppy rather than some birds. I think that with dogs people can have a connection to them and just like they say be a human’s best friend, but with many other animals humans can’t connect with and therefore not respect the animal as much. As for you bringing up how people step on bugs, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Insects are not animals, they are a living thing but aren’t something that people should go out of there way to respect.

    Last point that you brought that I found interesting was the point about animal testing. I can see why people might have a problem with this, thinking that it unnecessary to hurt these animals. However, I believe that if they can do testing with out animals then they should do testing that way first, but if is mandatory to do testing on an animal that is meaningful and is not cruel to the animals then I would rather they test animals than to test humans.

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