Wild animals are such incredible creatures that most of us have probably at least dreamed of owning one as a pet at one time or another. The idea of coming home to a tiger or a wolf after work, feeding it a few pounds of raw meat and then going for a run does sound like fun, never mind the bragging rights.
Tigers, cougars, lions, wolves, bears, large snakes, reptiles, and various primates are all sought after commodities on the exotic pet market. While the legality of owning such wild animals has been heavily debated, in many places, owning such wild animals isn’t illegal; most often you only need a license.
Whether legal or not, and while the majority of exotic pet owners keep their wild animals as pets without incident for a lifetime, the fact is, a wild animal, however domesticated it appears to be, will to some extent always be a wild animal, making the risks associated with keeping them as pets all the greater than traditional pet ownership.
Here are ten cases where owner's neglect or the nature of the pet itself ultimately led to a case of exotic pet ownership gone wrong.
10 Child Attacked by Mountain Lion
Amber Michelle Couch, of Odessa, Texas, had already been warned numerous times by authorities over the ownership of her pet mountain lion. Couch had been citied for not keeping the mountain lion’s vaccinations up to date. She was also told that not only was the exotic pet's cage too small for its size, but also that the bars keeping the 150 pound cat inside were not close enough together to prevent it from being able to attack anyone who got too close. Sadly for Couch’s four-year-old nephew, he got too close to the cage in October of 2011 and was mauled by the mountain lion, suffering lacerations and puncture wounds to his body as well as bite marks across his face. Miraculously the boy survived; the 12-year-old mountain lion was not so lucky and was euthanized following the encounter.
9 Woman Killed by Pet Camel
A sixty-year-old Australian woman was given the gift of a camel for her 60th birthday, and however strange this may seem as a birthday present, it doesn’t necessarily come across as dangerous, especially in light of the fact that the woman owned a large property with cattle and sheep roaming about as well. Whether the camel was in fact odd, or merely uncomfortable interacting with the other animals on Pam Weaver’s property remains uncertain, but what has been confirmed is that before Weaver’s death, the camel had repeatedly attempted to smother the family's pet goat. One evening the camel apparently attempted to fornicate with Weaver. After Weaver attempted to fight the birthday present off, the camel knocked her over, stomped on her head and lay on top of her, smothering her to death. Footprints were found on Pam Weavers face and arm.
8 Man Killed by African Lion
Eastern Illinois resident Al Abell kept a brood of exotic animals on his property, including an African lion. Though normally quite thorough in his handling of his exotic pets, one afternoon while Abell was cleaning the larger pen that his lion normally inhabited, he made a fatal mistake when he forgot to lock the door to the secondary pen he put the lion in when he entered the larger space. Though details surrounding Abell’s death are uncertain, it is known that upon returning home the evening of her husband’s death and seeing the lion roaming the property and not in its pen, Al Abell’s wife called the police who promptly responded to the home, killing the lion before discovering Abell’s mauled body.
7 Woman killed by Pet Viper
A woman who kept a menagerie of reptiles in her home in Cincinnati, some of them venomous and also illegal under Ohio state law, ultimately lost her life when one of the highly poisonous pit vipers she kept as a pet bit her on Labour Day of 2004. After being bitten by the snake the woman was conscious enough to drive herself to the hospital, where she deteriorated rapidly, ending up in critical condition until she died three days later. When authorities, accompanied by herpetologists from the Cincinnati Zoo entered the woman’s unassuming home, they found nine venomous snakes and a pair of alligators, among other exotic reptiles.
6 Woman Killed by Pet Black Bear
A Pennsylvania woman, who kept numerous wild animals as pets, including a lion, a tiger and a cougar (among other big cats), as well as a bear, ultimately fell victim to her exotic pet collection in late 2009. 37-year-old Kelly Ann Walz had been licensed to own the animals since 1994, and was extremely experienced in handling them, so her death may prove that no matter how cautious and careful one is and no matter how domesticated a wild animal appears, it is still exactly that; a wild animal. One Sunday evening in early fall Walz entered the black bear’s cage to clean it. In order to distract the bear Walz put dog food at one side of the cage, assuming the meal would keep the bear busy. Unfortunately, in front of her own children, as well as neighbourhood kids, the bear turned on Walz and mauled her to death.
5 Woman Killed by Wolf Dogs
Wolf dogs aren’t legal to own everywhere throughout the United States and Canada, but in places where they are legal to own, they are sometimes discouraged. The purity of the animal, its ratio of wolf to dog, is often times not fully known, and because of interbreeding, the behaviour of the pet can be highly unpredictable, as Sandra Piovesan sadly found out. Proclaiming that her wolf dogs gave her “unqualified love,” the pack of nine that Piovesan had raised at her Pennsylvania home ultimately turned on her in July of 2006 and mauled her to death.
4 Man killed by Pet Tiger
A Southwold, Ontario, Canada man, Norman Buwalda, was 66 years old when one of his pet tigers mauled him to death. Family members discovered his mutilated body in one of the tiger cages on Buwalda’s property, a cage that he entered alone, thus leaving no clue as to why the tiger killed him. Unfortunately for Norman Buwalda, it was not the first time that he had problems with the pet tigers he kept on his property; in 2004 a ten-year-old boy was mauled by a tiger on his property while taking a photo with the wild animal. Though bylaws were enacted in Southwold to prevent residents from keeping exotic pets following the attack on the boy, Buwalda fought the bylaw and won, allowing him to keep the five wild cats on his property until his death. In perhaps the most ironic twist of fate, Norman Buwalda was also the chairman of the Canadian Exotic Animal Owner's Association, a group which fought vigorously to allow citizens to keep wild animals as pets.
3 Toddler Strangled by Python
A Florida couple, Jaren Hare and Charles Darnell, were sentenced to 12 years in prison after their nearly nine-foot Burmese python was found inside the crib of Hare’s two-year-old daughter, where the young girl was strangled to death. While the defendants claimed that the pet had remained docile for the five years the snake was in their possession, the fact that the python’s enclosure had no proper lid, and nothing but a quilt covering the top of its cage was damning evidence against the pair. Both claimed that the death of two-year-old Shaianna was merely a tragic accident. While the death was ruled accidental, extreme negligence was also cited against the defendants, not only concerning the safety of the young girl, but also the snake, named Gypsy, which was starving to death and found over 100 pounds under weight at the time of the incident. Even Jaren Hare’s mother testified against her daughter and her boyfriend, stating she warned them numerous times of the dangerous of keeping the snake close to Shaianna, and offered to take the snake for them and keep it in a larger, safer environment.
2 German Man Killed by Spider
The tale of 30-year-old Mark Voegel of Dortmund, Germany and his apartment full of insects is so gruesome it is like something out of a horror film. At the very least, it was twisted enough to be featured on the sensational television program 1,000 Ways to Die, narrated by Hellboy himself. According to reports, Voegel was bitten by a black widow spider in his apartment one night, and succumbed to the poison after a period of time. Because he was reclusive, no one bothered to check on him until the smell from his apartment got bad enough that other tenants called police. What police found was his badly decomposed body laying on the ground, being eaten, and lived in, by the various snakes and reptiles he had kept in his own private zoo. As shocking as this story is, that may just be the point; though the story has been published essentially verbatim since 2004 by news outlets as wide ranging as Britain’s Sun tabloid and the Washington Times, there appears to be no actual evidence to either prove or disprove its validity. Whether true or not, the creepiness of the tale, and the potential for it to actually happen somewhere, makes it worthy of this list.
1 Woman Mauled by Friend's Chimpanzee
In a tragic case of wrong place wrong time, or at the very least being a little too helpful with her friends, Charla Nash headed over to her friend of thirty years Sandra Herold’s house in Stamford, Connecticut to help Herold attempt to get her 200 pound pet Chimpanzee back into his cage. At the time, Herold was in her 70s and Nash in her mid-fifties; attempting to physically force a 200 pound domesticated Chimpanzee, named Travis, back into his cage seemed a little daunting. Speculation on the difficulty of the task at hand unfortunately proved valid; soon after a 911 call from the Herold residence lead paramedics to a scene of horror. Parts of Nash’s fingers were strewn across the floor, her face had been severely mauled and paramedics stated her hands “looked as though they were run through a meat grinder.” Herold’s chilling 911 call further demonstrates the violence at the scene, her panic stricken voice claiming that her chimp had “killed (her) friend, and that he tore her apart.” After a long period of rehabilitation, Nash recovered from her injuries, but is severely scarred, wearing a veil to avoid scaring people with her severely disfigured face. While prosecutors did not press charges against Herold for her animal’s attack, Nash’s family filed a $50 million lawsuit against her. Herold died a year after the attack at age 72, while Nash ultimately continued to receive treatments to repair her mauled face, while collecting $4 million from the initial lawsuit in 2013.