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Friday, October 21, 2011

The ones that got away: Sad survivors of exotic animal bloodbath after 'time bomb' private zoo owner opened the cages and shot himself

-Residents permitted to go outdoors after 48 beasts spotted roaming the highways killed
-Owner Terry Thompson freed the animals before shooting himself
-He was dragged by the head by a tiger biting him after his death
-He was separated from his wife and had recently been in jail on weapons charges and had a record for animal cruelty
-Estranged wife distraught over loss of her 'kids'

By Daily Mail Reporter

A surviving grizzly bear peers out from a cage at the Columbus Zoo after being captured by authorities

Caged and alone, the sad survivors of the exotic animal bloodbath are now in the care of the Columbus Zoo.

Six animals - three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys - were captured and taken to the Zoo after they were freed by their owner before he killed himself.

'We are happy to report they all seem to be doing very well," zoo spokeswoman Patti Peters said in a statement Thursday.

This leopard is one of three that was saved after the bloodbath. Sheriff's deputies shot and killed 48 of the animals

Meanwhile the man who released the 'Noah's Ark' of deadly animals into his Ohio town before killing himself has been described by neighbours as a gun-crazed animal lover who was having a tough year.

Vietnam veteran Terry Thompson had reportedly separated from his wife, who was not at the ranch when he released the animals.

The sheriff said he spoke with Thompson's wife and that she was distraught over the loss of her husband and the animals.

'You have to understand these animals were like kids to her,' Lutz said.

'She probably spent more time with these animals than some parents do spend with their kids.'

He was released from prison on September 30 after serving a year in jail on charges stemming from an arsenal of weapons he had in his home - which included machine guns and a sniper rifle.

Mr Thompson was also convicted of animal cruelty in 2005 after three animals at his farm died.

Thompson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and also had a bite wound on the head that appeared to have come from a large cat, such as a Bengal tiger, county Sheriff Matt Lutz said Thursday morning.

It appeared the bite occurred quickly after Thompson shot himself and that his body had been dragged a short distance, Lutz said.

Neighbours described Thompson as having a passion for exotic creatures, which led to tension in the area.

Mr Thompson, 62, had had repeated run-ins with the law and his neighbours. Lutz said that the sheriff's office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals escaping onto neighbours' property.

One of two macaques that were captured by authorities in the Ohio tragedy. Macaques are short tailed monkeys found in Asia and Africa

Orphaned but alive: One of three leopards captured, a black leopard, was one of Terry Thompson's 'babies', as the dozens of exotic animals were known

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

Fred Polk, who lived near Thompson's ranch, told the Great Falls Tribune that his neighbour's assortment of wildlife was a 'time bomb waiting to happen.'

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.'

Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals - including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions - in a big-game hunt across the state's countryside on 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 neighbours and police.

Tragic: Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals - including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions - across the state's countryside on Wednesday

Dead: Owner of the animals Terry Thompson was found dead by police at the Muskingum County Animal Farm. he had previous gun charges and was separated from his wife

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 56 animals that had been turned loose from the Muskingum County Animal Farm by Mr Thompson before he shot himself to death on Tuesday.

After an all-night hunt that extended into yesterday 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.

Another monkey that was carrying the dangerous Herpes B virus, is believed to be dead after being eaten by one of the other animals.

Those destroyed included six black bears, two grizzlies, a wolf, a baboon and three mountain lions. Dead animals were being buried on Thompson's farm, officials said.

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

Jack Hanna, renowned wildlife expert and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, told the Columbus Dispatch: 'It’s like Noah wrecking his ark right here in Zanesville, Ohio.'

Mr Hanna 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.

'When I heard 18, I was still in disbelief,' he 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.'

Officers were ordered to kill the animals instead of trying to bring them down with tranquillizers 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 were showing aggressive behaviour,' Sheriff Matt Lutz said. 'Once the nightfall hit, our biggest concern was having these animals roaming.'

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.

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

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz was joined by Columbus Zoo director emeritus and wildlife expert Jack Hanna as he announced the animal round up

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

It was not immediately clear how Mr Thompson managed to support the preserve and for what purpose it was operated, since 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.

Larry Hostetler, the executive director of the Animal Shelter Society of Muskingum County, told CNN Thompson had also once supplied a lion cub for a photo shoot with supermodel Heidi Klum.

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

Dead: Authorities are still trying to capture or kill all the animals that escaped

'I wrote a letter to Heidi Klum's people. I strongly voiced my opinion that if they're going to hire animals for entertainment, they might want to check handlers' backgrounds - that Terry Thompson had been convicted of animal cruelty. Of course, I never heard anything back,' he said.

The sheriff's office started getting calls on 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.

Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Merry was among the first to respond on 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 seven feet away.

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

A bear is pictured on the loose shortly after its escape

'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.

'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.

'It was like a war zone with all the shooting and so forth with the animals,' said Sam Kopchak, who was outside on Tuesday afternoon when he saw Mr 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,' Mr Kopchak said.

Danielle Berkheimer said she was nervous as she drove home on 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 on 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.'

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.

Terry Thompson's property, where dozens of large exotic animals including tigers, lions and bears were released when he opened their cages

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.

On Wednesday, the Humane Society of the United States criticized Governor John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire in April. The organisation 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, asked in a statement.

Mr Kasich said on 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,' Mr Long added in an email. 'Their numbers are being decimated by poaching and habitat loss, and that is the real travesty here.'

An official put out flares to warn residents during the hunt for the animals

Hunt: Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz speaks to the media after the escape of the exotic animals



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