The panther’s escape

“Der Panterausbruch,” by Walton Ford.

Ford based his painting on a Panthera pardus that escaped from the Zurich Zoo in 1934. The animal survived for two months in the Swiss winter before being killed for food (!) by a “casual laborer.” An excerpt of Ford’s source is quoted in the back of the Taschen volume I wrote about here. The director of the Zurich Zoo noted that more than 800 articles were written about the animal by the Swiss press alone; and that people were reporting the animal everywhere, mistaking dog footprints for it, and urging that a clairvoyant and an exorcist be brought in to help find it/catch it. Also, the director said that the Zoo couldn’t have asked for better publicity…”the propaganda value of the escape was incalculable.”

I immediately thought of this painting when I heard about the wild animals let loose from a Zanesville, OH, compound variously described as a “wild animal farm,” a “preserve,” or, laughably, a “sanctuary.” The media — salivating like hungry dogs over such a thrilling bleeder-leader: “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” cliched the idiots at the Daily News — is still breaking, but I’ll go with the description “prison,” run by a weapons-stockpiling nut who’d already been charged with animal cruelty in 2005. After years of letting a horrible situation fester, law enforcement got to go on a big game safari: most of the approximately 50 animals thought to have gotten loose have been shot dead.

When I first saw Ford’s painting, I thought the scene was from a century earlier. Although it says 1934 right on it, I read it as 1834. Helping in this misreading were the torches of the people in the background. They reminded me of the townspeople chasing after Frankenstein’s Monster, the beast within ever projected outwards onto the monsters and the animals. And they reminded me of slave-hunters; and kidnappers after runaway slaves; and a crowd of fine Southern white folk setting out to a picnic-lynching, circa 1934, with fried chicken, potato salad, and cool, cool sweet tea.

A closer look at the pursuers and a deciphering of Ford’s hand-written comments at the bottom right reveals more detail. The townsfolk are not hunters at all. They’re pagans, for nothing sheds the prophylaxis of civilization and its handmaiden Christianity like irrational terror. Les gens/die Menschen/le persone are making a procession of loud and discordant noise, hoping to scare away the female (it figures) spirits of the wood, and with them the beast cat, who, naturally, must be their familiar…

My initial associations weren’t so far off after all. The painting’s alternate title could be: Timeless Variation on a Witch Hunt.

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the darkness of the Zanesville night

4 Responses to “The panther’s escape”


  1. 1 alphonsegaston October 22, 2011 at 2:18 am

    Alas, you are giving a knee-jerk city guy reaction to our local tragedy. Yes, the state should have shut him down, but unfortunately there were no laws in place. Thus, the deputies were called out to a tragic situation–56 hungry, bewildered large predatory animals at large close to Interstate 70 and roaming through a populated rural neighborhood. What to do?? They immediately called zoo officials in Columbus and professionals from The Wilds–who rushed in, but what could they do? Tranq darts take a while to work–giving a tiger, for example, lots of time to attack the vet–which happened that night but the cops were able to kill the animal before it attacked. Jack Hanna told of seeing a vet, his good friend, killed by a tiger shot with a dart, who leaped 18 feet on the vet , killing him.

    Describing the cops as being “on a big game safari” is, like many other online attacks on these law enforcement guys, mean and ignorant. The blame does not belong to the blue shirts (gray, actually), but the suits in the state house and the lobbyists for guns and the sick subculture of exotic animal auctions, dog fights, and puppy mills.

    Another local news story from the day before resonates here. A mentally ill man who had threatened many times to kill his girlfriend–old story–kills himself, her father, and injures her, while she was driving him to a storage unit to get his possessions so he could move out, as she had requested. The deputies had been at the house earlier, tried to talk sense to the woman, called up the psychiatrist, etc.–but they could not legally do anything as she had removed the court order, just got into the car and left with him, her father supposedly protecting her.

    When the law officers are disarmed, either by lack of sensible laws or sensible victims, they should not be blamed, let alone ridiculed.

    Our local news media are covering the many, many problems the county had with this man, a disturbed veteran who traded guns for animals–he also had another “farm” with neglected horses. He was on the radar of the humane society for years. And even now, the six live animals being house at the Columbus Zoo “belong” to his wife.

    Sorry to be long-winded–but I just jumped on a soapbox here.

    A long-time reader

    • 2 mthew October 22, 2011 at 10:25 am

      Plenty of room on the soapbox, Alphonse, so I’m glad you jumped on it. No need to apologize about that! I’m glad you took the time and the thoughtfulness. (I’m mulling your comments over and will respond more fully at a later time.) Cheers!


  1. 1 Readthetrieb: Künstler im Fokus: Walton Ford - Tiere aus der Retrospektive | Read-The-Trieb Trackback on June 16, 2014 at 7:32 am
  2. 2 Naturalia | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on February 28, 2017 at 7:01 am

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