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Man releases 56 wild, exotic animals into the streets including Lions, Tigers & Bears then kills himself (PICS+VIDEO)

Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals - including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions - in a big-game hunt across the Ohio countryside Wednesday after the owner of an exotic-animal park threw their cages open and committed suicide in what may have been one last act of spite against his neighbors and police.

Dead: owner of the animals Terry Thompson was found dead by police at the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, but cause of death has not been determined

As homeowners nervously hid indoors, officers armed with high-powered rifles and shoot-to-kill orders fanned out through fields and woods to hunt down about 56 animals that had been set loose from the Muskingum County Animal Farm by its owner, Terry Thompson, before he shot himself to death Tuesday.

After an all-night hunt that extended into Wednesday afternoon, 48 animals were killed. Six others - three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys - were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo. A wolf was later found dead, leaving a monkey as the only animal still on the loose.

Stench of death: Numerous carcasses lie on the ground at the barn of Muskingum County Animal Farm after dozens of exotic beasts were freed last night


 Those destroyed included six black bears, two grizzlies, a baboon and three

mountain lions.

Jack Hanna, TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo, defended the sheriff's decision to kill the animals, but said the deaths of the Bengal tigers were especially tragic. There are only about 1,400 of the endangered cats left in the world, he said.

Temporary graveyard: The bodies of various dead animals were seen on Terry Thompson's property in Zanesville, Ohio on Wednesday

"When I heard 18 I was still in disbelief," Hanna said. "The most magnificent creature in the entire world, the tiger is."

As the hunt dragged on outside of Zanesville, population 25,000, schools closed

in the mostly rural area of farms and widely spaced homes 55 miles east of Columbus. Parents were warned to keep children and pets indoors. And flashing signs along highways told motorists, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle."

Dead: Authorities are still trying to capture or kill the wild animal that escaped and have accounted for around 35 of them

Officers were ordered to kill the animals instead of trying to bring them down with tranquilizers for fear that those hit with darts would escape in the darkness before they dropped and would later regain consciousness.

"These animals were on the move, they

A sign warning motorists that exotic animals are on the loose rests on I-70 Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, near Zanesville, Ohio. (Associated Press: Tony Dejak)
were showing aggressive behavior," Sheriff Matt Lutz said. "Once the nightfall hit, our biggest concern was having these animals roaming."

Lutz said at an afternoon news conference that the danger had passed and that people could move around freely again, but that the monkey would probably be shot because it was believed to be carrying a herpes disease.

The sheriff would not speculate why Thompson killed himself and why he left open the cages and fences at his 73-acre preserve, dooming the animals he seemed to love so much.

The body of a lion, thought to have been shot dead by police, lies in the undergrowth close to the reserve

Thompson, 62, had had repeated run-ins with the law and his neighbors. Lutz said that the sheriff's office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals escaping onto neighbors' property, and that Thompson had been charged with animal-related offenses.

Thompson had gotten out of federal prison just last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns.

John Ellenberger, a neighbor, speculated that Thompson freed the animals to get back at neighbors and police. "Nobody much cared for him," Ellenberger said.

Angie McElfresh, who lives in an apartment near the farm and hunkered down with her family in fear, said "it could have been an 'f-you' to everybody around him."

Thompson had rescued some of the animals at his preserve and purchased many others, said Columbus Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters.

A bear is pictured on the loose shortly after its escape

It was not immediately clear how Thompson managed to support the preserve and for what purpose it was operated. It was not open to the public. But Thompson had appeared on the "Rachael Ray Show" in 2008 as an animal handler for a zoologist guest, said show spokeswoman Lauren Nowell.

The sheriff's office started getting calls Tuesday evening that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville. Deputies went to the animal preserve and found Thompson dead and all the cages open. Several aggressive animals were near his body and had to be shot, the sheriff said.

"It's like Noah's Ark, like, wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," Hanna lamented.

Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Merry was among the first to respond Tuesday. He said he shot a number of animals, including a gray wolf and a black bear. He said the bear charged him and he fired his pistol, killing it with one shot when it was about 7 feet away.

"All these animals have the ability to take a human out in the length of a second," said Merry, who called himself an animal lover but said he knew he was protecting the community.

"It was like a war zone with all the shooting and so forth with the animals," said Sam Kopchak, who was outside Tuesday afternoon when he saw Thompson's horses acting up. Kopchak said he turned and saw a male lion lying down on the other side of a fence.

"The fence is not going to be a fence that's going to hold an African lion," Kopchak said.

Danielle Berkheimer said she was nervous as she drove home Tuesday night and afraid to let her two dogs out in the yard.

"When it's 300-pound cats, that's scary," she said. She said it had been odd Tuesday night to see no one out around town, and the signs warning drivers to stay in their cars were "surreal."

Some townspeople were saddened by the deaths. At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser said: "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals."

"What a tragedy," said Barb Wolfe, a veterinarian with The Wilds, a nearby zoo-sponsored wild animal preserve. She said she managed to hit a tiger with a tranquilizer dart, but the animal charged toward her and then turned and began to flee before the drug could take effect, and deputies shot the big cat.

Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them. At least nine people have been injured since 2005 and one person was killed, according to Born Free USA, an animal advocacy group.

On Wednesday, the Humane Society of the United States criticized Gov. John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire in April. The organization urged the state to immediately issue emergency restrictions.

"How many incidents must we catalog before the state takes action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals?" Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO, said in a statement.

Kasich said Wednesday during a meeting of Dix Communications editors: "Clearly, we need tougher laws. We haven't had them in this state. Nobody's dealt with this, and we will. And we'll deal with it in a comprehensive way."

Barney Long, an expert at the World Wildlife Fund, noted that tigers in general are endangered. He said there appear to be fewer of them living in the wild than there are in captivity in the U.S. alone. Over the last century, the worldwide population has plunged from about 100,000 in the wild to as few as 3,200, he said.

More than half are Bengal tigers, which live in isolated pockets across Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, India and Bangladesh, he said in a telephone interview

"The tragic shooting of 18 tigers in Ohio really highlights what is happening on a daily basis to tigers in the wild throughout Asia," Long added in an email. "Their numbers are being decimated by poaching and habitat loss, and that is the real travesty here."



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Comment by Sugaa on October 23, 2011 at 1:46am
Dam y'all cold and funny. Sad but true you gotta kill to protect human lives. There's a raccoon running around here and Im scared.  Damit I cant imagine the King of the dam Jungle and his crew  hanging in my yard. This is one crazy world we live in today.
Comment by Kenrick Francis on October 21, 2011 at 4:52pm
What's happening in our world today. God made the wild for these animals. Apart from approved zoos, why was this man allowed to  have a reservation and why so many wild animals and animals out of their league and environment?
Comment by Damian Snagg on October 21, 2011 at 10:43am
this country has so many sins to pay for.
Comment by stillsearchin on October 21, 2011 at 7:04am
@Jen. I get you. It's a very sad thing.
Comment by Malcolm X on October 21, 2011 at 4:04am

I heard one lady's 911 call. She said a lion just walked past her house. If a lion walks past my house I want the police to shoot it dead on the spot. F*** waiting for ASPCA. I might want to go to the store. You know how long the ASPCA takes to come.


Plus the measles, chicken pox, small pox, bubonic plague and most flu viruses all started with human and animal contact. They did the right thing by killing them.

Comment by carolyn johnson on October 20, 2011 at 7:26pm
kill kill kill kill
Comment by Jen on October 20, 2011 at 7:18pm
I'm so saddened by it I can't get over the feeling...
Comment by stillsearchin on October 20, 2011 at 6:51pm
@Jen. I do believe it was probably out of consideration for persons in the vicinity. The article did say that it was starting to get dark, and imagine if one of the animals ran off in the dark, they have to search for it, whilst being on guard for one of the others sneaking up on them. As you said, that's a lot risk... imagine if they made it onto someones property, too? A simple window won't keep a large scared animal like that out of a house. I think they made the best call they could, given the oddity of the situation... but it is very unfortunate for the animals...But I rather hear that, than hear a child was mauled. I figured it was an "available resources" issue, because I got the impression that they had enlisted locals to help hunt some of the animals. It didn't seem like juat police from what I read.
Comment by evolution on October 20, 2011 at 6:36pm

@Jen these are wild animals some which are not indigenous to the US, using a tranquilizing rifle at the time of night with poor visibility would have been dangerous. Remember that Lions and tigers were involved along with bears and if he had jackals and hyenas it would have been over for the authorities.     

Comment by Jen on October 20, 2011 at 6:05pm
Stillsearchin, animal control is equipped to deal with emergencies just as any other health agency is, Maybe they wouldnt have been able to save all the animals but a whole bunch of them, and sheriffs offices usually carry tranquilizer guns for these such cases. I understand that the lives of people were at risk but damn, the same way how they took a rifle and shot the animals they could have used tranquilizer guns shot them same way and have them relocated. I just feel like better could have been done thats all. I guess they were just concerned about the neighbors safety.

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