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Commentary: Monkey business nearly over in Zanesville

Grizzly bears, wolves and tigers were loose in the streets.

No, this isn’t the script for “Jumanji.” This is the bedlam that went down Tuesday in a town just an hour east of Columbus — which happens to be my hometown.

Fifty-six wild animals escaped Tuesday from a farm just west of Zanesville, Ohio, a city with about 25,000 residents. At one point, the farm housed lions, wolves, cheetahs, tigers, giraffes, camels, grizzly bears and black bears.

“These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa,” Sheriff Matt Lutz said in a press conference on Tuesday.

That they are.

As of Wednesday, officials believed 50 of the 56 loose animals had been killed, with the six animals left alive being transported to a zoo. The owner of the property where the animals lived was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

It kept getting weirder, too.

The last animal not accounted for was a monkey believed to have Herpes.

And it was eaten by one of the large cats.

… What?!

Can’t make this stuff up, I suppose.

A lot of people are upset that the animals have been killed. I can see the argument on both sides: They were killed because many of the officers weren’t equipped or trained to keep the public safe from wild, exotic animals; they shouldn’t have been killed because it wasn’t the animals’ fault they were let loose in a strange place.

But regardless of all that, as someone who was born and raised in Zanesville, stray grizzly bears were never much of a worry.

At my dear old alma mater of Zanesville High School, there were more pressing issues. The threat of getting stabbed was a common one.

Zanesville also has a notable gang presence, and thus, harbors a lot of drug activity.

Not quite your stereotypical Appalachian hometown.

Seeing Zanesville in the news, though, does make me proud. Zanesville (and #zanesville) were trending in the United States on Twitter Wednesday and reached as high as the No. 3 trending topic. I saw a story on the BBC’s website Wednesday and it was even featured on the “Today” show.

This is a town with an under-appreciated history. Not only was Zanesville the state capital for two years, it also has a Y-shaped bridge (try to wrap your head around that), and is the hometown of Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio and Houston Rockets star Kevin Martin.

I admit I’m a little jealous that I wasn’t able to be in Zanesville offering my journalism skills. Forget “All the President’s Men.” Journalists running around with their fedoras and notepads chasing lions sounds much more fun to watch.

When I heard SWAT teams were in neighboring counties last night, my attention was piqued. There were reports that camels and giraffes were on the farm, and the thought of SWAT teams in riot gear trying to take down a giraffe sounded utterly hilarious.

Sadly, as we found out, there were no giraffes or camels on the farm when the animals were let loose.

I should probably take a second to admit that this was a dangerous situation. Several area school districts were closed Wednesday, including the district I graduated from. A person is even dead, though not because of injuries sustained from the animals.

Regardless, this all reminded me of April 2010, when two cows ran loose on Ohio State’s campus. Remember how big of a deal that was?

This was different. There was the possibility that Geoffrey, the Toys ‘R Us mascot, was running rampant just an hour away from here.

Like I said, this was a potentially dangerous situation indeed, but from the comfort of Columbus, I can laugh at the absurdity of exotic animals around. The escaped animals even took to Twitter, with accounts like @ZanesvilleWolf, who tweeted, “Too soon for an #OccupyZanesville joke?”

It was a serious situation, sure. A picture posted to Facebook on Wednesday showed numerous dead animals strewn across a field. That said, the concept of what went down in my modest little hometown is still so absurd that it almost seemed like fiction.

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