Killer Pets by Heleigh Bostwick

Killer Pets

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Ever dreamed of having an exotic pet like a Siberian tiger or a Burmese python? They may seem cute and cuddly when they're young, but they grow into full-sized wild animals, sometimes with tragic results. Check out a few recent cases of killer pets.

by Heleigh Bostwick
updated July 17, 2014 · 2 min read

You probably heard about the orca whale that attacked and killed its trainer at SeaWorld in February 2010. While the orca wasn't someone's pet, per se, quite a few people do keep exotic or wild pets such as snakes, lizards, and yes, even tigers and bears at home or in a pen in the yard. And, despite what their owners say, pets like these may be dangerous and can even kill. With that in mind, let's take a look at some “killer pets” that have made the news recently.


Take the case of the Stamford, Connecticut woman, whose 200-pound “pet” chimpanzee went wild in early 2009 and had to be gunned down. The victim, 55-year-old Charla Nash, was a friend of the chimp's owner and was familiar to the chimp. Nash had stopped by to visit her friend and was viciously attacked by the chimp. Nash wasn't killed, but the chimp inflicted major injuries to her face in addition to biting both of her hands off, leaving Nash with only a thumb on one hand. The damage to Nash's face was so severe that she underwent a face transplant in 2009. 

Siberian Tiger

In January of 2010, it was reported that an Ontario, Canada man had been attacked and killed by his pet Siberian Tiger. Although there were no witnesses to the incident, Norman Buwalda, chairman of the Canadian Exotic Animal Owner's Association, was killed inside the 650-pound tiger's pen and was found by a family member. Four years earlier, the tiger had attacked a 10-year-old boy after it was taken out of its cage and put on a leash; the boy had wanted to take a photograph of the tiger. No charges were filed because the owner was permitted by law to own the “pet.”

Black Bear

In 2009, a 37-year-old Pennsylvania woman named Kelly Ann Walz was killed while cleaning the cage of the family's 350-pound pet black bear. A neighbor shot the bear, but not before the woman's children witnessed the attack. The bear was not the first exotic pet the family had owned. Two years earlier, Walz had reported to authorities that she was keeping a number of exotic pets on her property, including a lion, a cougar, a jaguar, a tiger, a black bear, a leopard, and two servals. Her husband, an exotic pet dealer, was operating with an expired license at the time of the incident. 

Burmese Python

A quick search on the Internet will reveal that Burmese pythons, which can grow up to 15 feet long, are killers, wrapping themselves around a victim and literally squeezing an animal—or in some cases, a person—to death. In July 2009, a two-year-old toddler was strangled by the family pet, an eight-foot-long Burmese python, as she lay sleeping in her crib in a south Florida home.

Burmese pythons and other exotic reptiles, such as the Nile monitor lizard, are a particular problem in the Florida Everglades, where people have released their “pets” into the wild. These exotic snakes and lizards thrive in the tropical climate and pose a severe threat to native species living there. In fact, the problem of pythons is so bad that each year, the state wildlife commission authorizes a “python hunt” by specially licensed python hunters. More than 140,000 Burmese pythons are imported into the US every year, ensuring the problem is likely to continue.

Related: Life-Saving Pets

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Heleigh Bostwick

About the Author

Heleigh Bostwick

Heleigh Bostwick has been writing for LegalZoom since 2006, touching on topics as diverse as estate planning and kids, c… Read more