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Thursday, October 20, 2011

'A monkey was eaten by a lion... then a tiger was chasing a horse': Bizarre hunt for zoo animals running wild in Ohio after reserve owner set them fre

-Police round up last of 'mature, aggressive wild animals'
-Residents urged to stay indoors and schools closed after beasts were spotted roaming the highways
-Owner freed animals before shooting himself
-He had recently been in jail on weapons charges and had a record for animal cruelty

By Rachel Quigley

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

Police were today hunting down the last of the remaining wild animals that terrorised a small Ohio community after their owner freed more than 50 of the wild beasts before killing himself.

Terry Thompson was found dead by authorities at the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, Ohio, and his body was surrounded by a number of aggressive animals.

All of the animals have now been accounted for except a monkey and a wolf.
Authorities were issued with a 'shoot-to-kill' order after they received a 911 call telling them the animals were running loose last night.

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

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

Dead: Authorities are still trying to capture or kill the exotic animals that escaped and have accounted for around 43 of them

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

A number were shot last night and throughout the day - including Bengal tigers, grizzly bears, leopards, camels, wolves and giraffes - and police warned residents to stay in their homes and motorists to stay in their cars until the animals were rounded up. Local schools were also closed.

Most of the animals were put down.

Muskingham County sheriff Matt Lutz said the animals were already out of their pens when deputies arrived.

He said: 'We feel that Mr Thompson died from a self-inflicted wound. We also feel he had released these animals at some point. Not only were the gates open but some of the pins were open.'

Sheriff Matt Lutz said they are still waiting on the results of the preliminary autopsy to establish Mr Thompson's cause of death but did confirm it was a suicide.

He called the killing of the animals 'senseless' because they were not in a proper environment

Mr Thompson, who lived on the property, had chimps in cages in his home but these were still locked up.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium director emeritus Jack Hanna said he 'can see this happening', based on his knowledge about the animal world.

'The guy was depressed and he loved the animals that much, maybe,' he said.

Sam Kopchak, Thompson's neighbour, said he saw lions and bears running free on Tuesday evening. A tiger was chasing horses, he told CNN.

His mother then called police and told them it was like a 'war zone'.

Mr Kopchak described Thompson as being an aloof lover of animals. He said saw him driving one time with a baby black bear on his chest.

Lutz said authorities found primates inside the house.

Throughout the day, police urged nearby residents to stay indoors as animals were spotted wandering up and down highways in the area.

Mr Thompson, 62, was released from prison three weeks ago after serving a one-year term for weapons offences.

In 2005, he was convicted of cruelty to animals and placed under house arrest for six months, according to the New York Post.

A local veterinarian who inspected some of Thompson's animals described him as 'an animal collector', although Thompson claimed he was operating an animal shelter.

He was also said to be involved in fashion photography, and once provided lion cubs for use in a photo shoot with model Heidi Klum in 2007, The Dispatch reported.

Today: Terry Thompson's property, where dozens of large exotic animals including tigers, lions and bears were hunted down and shot after their owner opened their cages at his Ohio farm

Warning: A sign posted on Interstate 70 warns drivers of animals loose in the area around Zanesville, Ohio, until all are accounted for

Grizzly: A bear is pictured on the loose shortly after its escape

Hunt: Authorities are still scouring the area for any of the 'aggressive' animals who remain at large

Search: At least 35 of the 48 wild animals are believed to have been accounted for

According to ABC, sheriff Lutz said his deputies had to kill animals at close range with their sidearms.

He said: 'These are 300-pound Bengal tigers that we had to put down. They are very aggressive.'

He also said that though they tried to shoot animals with tranquilisers, sometime that was not enough.

A vet shot a tiger with a tranquilizer from 15 yards away and Lutz said it 'just went crazy', and started to run, so officers were forced to shoot it with lethal ammunition.

One of the animals was hit by a car, a monkey was eaten by one of the escaped lions.

Sheriff Matt Lutz said: 'These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa.'

He described the escaped animals as 'mature, very big, aggressive' but a keeper at the park had told them the reserve's 50 animals had been fed on Monday.

He added that his officers were patrolling the 40-acre farm and the surrounding areas in cars, not on foot, and had been concerned about big cats and bears hiding in woodland.

Authorities: Sheriff Lutz said there are not ruling out any possibility at the moment that Thompson killed himself, or was killed at the hands of another man or the animals

Locator: Map showing where the farm the animals escaped from is located

There have so far been no reports of injuries from residents.

Sheriff Lutz added: 'This is a bad situation. It's been a situation for a long time.'

Increasing numbers of phone calls have been made by members of the public reporting sightings of wild animals on local roads.

Caretakers from Columbus Zoo in the state were at the scene in the hope of tranquillising and capturing the rest of the animals so no more have to be killed.

Sheriff Lutz said his main concern was protecting the public.

He said: 'Any kind of cat species or bear species is what we are concerned about. We don't know how much of a head start these animals have on us.'

A spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which usually deals with native wildlife like deer, said wildlife officers were helping the sheriff's office to cope.

Laura Jones said: 'This is, I would say, unique.'

Hunt: Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz speaks to the media after dozens of exotic animals escaped an enclosure in Zanesville, Ohio

Neighbour Danielle White, whose father's property is next door to the animal reserve, said she didn't see loose animals this time but did in 2006, when a lion escaped.

'It's always been a fear of mine knowing (Thompson) had all those animals,' she said.

'I have kids. I've heard a male lion roar all night.'

White added Thompson had been in legal trouble, and police said he had been released from jail recently.

He lived on the property and had orangutans and chimps in his home, but those were still in their cages, Lutz said.

The deputies, who saw many other animals standing outside their cages and others that had escaped past the fencing surrounding the property, began shooting them on sight.

At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser remembered Thompson as an interesting character who flew planes, raced boats and owned a custom motorcycle shop that also sold guns.

'He was pretty unique,' Weiser said. 'He had a different slant on things. I never knew him to hurt anybody, and he took good care of the animals.'

The state of Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.

The state requires permits for bears but doesn't regulate the ownership of animals like lions and tigers.

Last summer, an animal caretaker was killed by a bear at a property in Cleveland. The caretaker had opened the bear's cage on keeper Sam Mazzola's property for a routine feeding.

Although animal rights activists had wanted the keeper Mazzola charged with reckless homicide, the caretaker's death was ruled a workplace accident. The bear was later destroyed.

This summer, Mazzola was found dead on a water bed at his home in Columbia Township, 15 miles south-west of Cleveland. He was wearing a mask and with his arms and legs had been restrained when he was discovered,

It was never revealed how many animals were on the property when Mazzola died, but he had said in a bankruptcy filing in May 2010 that he owned four tigers, a lion, eight bears and 12 wolves.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had revoked his licence to exhibit animals after activists campaigned against him letting people wrestle with one bear.

Mazzola had permits for nine bears last year, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.



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