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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Like scenes from a movie, exotic animals roamed the streets of Zanesville, OH, earlier this week. They were let loose just before their owner Terry Thompson killed himself.

As a result, deputies shot dozens of the more than 50 freed animals, including 18 rare tigers and 17 lions. There is one monkey unaccounted, though investigators today say there is a “high probability” it was eaten by one of big cats. Six surviving creatures were taken to the Columbus Zoo. The slain animals have been buried on Thompson’s farm.

It was not a pleasant sight, and one that hits home for those who care for similar animals.

Sherry Tregembo grew up with big cats.

“These animals are like my children,” she said.

As a fourth generation zoo owner, she now takes care of the animals at her family’s zoo on Carolina Beach Road. Hearing what happened in Ohio left her saddened, but she knows police had little choice.

“The police had to do what they had to do to protect the people,” Tregembo said. “You wouldn’t want any kids or anybody to get injured.”

Others in Wilmington are appalled that the animals were killed instead of sedated.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God! Are we not in a civilization anymore?’ These animals were endangered. Why couldn’t they by shot with knockout drops? I don’t understand it,” Heather Hertzog said.

Investigators say the animals in Ohio were intentionally released. That’s something the Tregembo family says will never happen here even if they have a disgruntled employee. As an added safety feature, when it comes to the dangerous animals, the carnivores, only certain people at the Tregembo Zoo have keys to the cages.

“No one here is going to let any of them out, that’s for sure,” Tregembo said. “We have plenty of checks and balances on the locks, and there’s certain locks on certain cages that only me and my father have. The zookeepers don’t even have. So we have precautions on what can be let out at a certain time.”

But this is a zoo. A controlled environment. In certain counties in North Carolina anyone can have exotic pets. Should that law be changed Tregembo does not think so.

“I know plenty of people who have animals as pets, exotic animals, that do all the right things, and they shouldn’t be punished because of one person’s, I don’t know, loss of their senses, I guess,” she said.

During heavy storms or hurricanes, the Tregembo Zoo moves the dangerous animals into reinforced cages with steel bars just to make sure a fallen tree wouldn’t provide a path to freedom.

Comment on this Story

  • Guest28451

    Let’s see…If you shoot or injure someone while breaking the law the Police are concerned about the criminals rights.
    If your an animal acting on natural instinct we will just shoot to kill.
    I would rather be around animals than scumbags any day!
    The animals should have been sedated.
    The convicted scumbags should be made to volunteer at the zoo or surgically altered so they can’t reproduce.

  • Guest654654

    you make it sound like the cops have tranq rounds just laying around.

  • Guest55564

    Do you have any understanding of how sedating drugs work? For starters, you have to have a vet present every time they are used to estimate the weight of the animal and then determine the amount of drug to be used. And if they are wrong either the animal dies or it is not sedated. And you need a team to quickly trailer the animal and remove it before it wakes up.

    This is not practical when you have a handful of deputies trying to catch 50 large animals while night is approaching. Not to mention the logistics of gathering up enough sedatives to put down dozens of big cats and bears at a moments notice.

    Sure it sounds good, but it’s about as unrealistic as wanting the cops to shoot badguys’ guns out of their hands.

  • holly

    There is absolutely no reason in the year 2011,,that any of those beautiful animals had to die,,that is exactly what the sedation guns are to be used for to sedate the animal,,not kill,,,,,makes absolutely no sense,and is very cruel and sad!

  • ma_lashley

    I’m certain most of these animal lovers are also the first ones to scream “but think of the children” every time someone wants to build a cement plant. Well, what about those children if a mountian lion or grizzly bear wondered out into a playground? How about thinking of the officers who had to risk their safety, or more so, their families that might be left with a dead or disabled parent because being PC to satisy your sensibilities was more important than being prudent? You’ve seen too many TV shows where the character takes a shot to the butt and is passed out before the laugh track is over. They don’t work that way at all. You think a Bengal tiger is going to wait around to be shot at twice cause it shook the first dart off? Let me ask you, if you’re out at dusk, wandering around the woods with wild predators that would kill you, would you rather have a tranquilizer gun or a rifle?

  • Wanda77

    You left out that the typical urban animal control department, while well intentioned, is hard pressed to capture an errant raccoon. I could just see them tackling a tiger even if they had all the equipment. They don’t have the training or tracking abilities.

    This was a one in ten million occurence, and while the loss of life was tragic there simply was no other option, as you pointed out.

  • Guest2020

    And as tragic as the loss of life of the animals is, the loss of a human life at the hands of any of the animals would have been much more tragic. I think the right thing was done.

  • Guest20

    The blame should be put where it belongs…on the shoulders of the man who unlocked the animals cages, released them, and then shot himself. All of this tragedy falls on this mentally disturbed man.

    The officers did the best they could in a horrific situation. My heart breaks for these beautiful animals, but they couldn’t be allowed to roam the streets with night coming on and them getting hungrier by the moment. The officers couldn’t take a chance that these animals could kill someone. They did the right thing, no matter how much it breaks my heart.

  • Uncaged

    …the people that allow other people to take these animals out of their natural environment in the first place an put in small confines for our own enjoyment. I detest the circus as well. How are they both not a form of animal abuse? These animals were vitimized by humans, twice.

  • Beth

    Anyone watching the news about this event cannot help but be saddened by the loss of these animals however, put the blame where it belongs….on the owner who selfishly turned them out and then took his own life. Law enforcement did the job they are trained to do…they kept the public safe from harm in this situation. It was very clear that darting the animals in the dead of night was not an option and that the brave folks that went forward with no experience in this situation did not want to kill the animals. They were left with no choice by the owner.

  • Guest461

    The Tregembo zoo has had it’s issues in the past. As I remember, they have had animals stolen from there. Someone on another occasion broke in and severely abused some animals. Sure…they “think” it wouldn’t happen, but thier “thinking” wasn’t able to prevent any of the other reckless situations from happenening! Sorry, I don’t buy it and frankly they just don’t come off as looking like the most intelligent bunch running that place.

    As for all of the “armchair animal rescuers” out there criticizing how that zoo escape was handled, IF you knew anything about lions, tigers and bears…and …IF you knew anything about wild animal sedation, you would realize that killing those animals was the only possible way to protect the general public and their children from a very real disaster of being mauled to death by very powerful, scared, disoriented and desperate animals. I would never want to see any animals senslessly killed, but not every situation of this magnitude can carry a fairy tale conclusion!

  • Guest27

    Even if the animals at our “zoo” were to be freed, they would be too weak to do anything. Has anyone seen these animals. Its hard to believe that place is allowed to stay opened!


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