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56 animals shot and killed in Ohio after being freed by owner

Carcasses of animals that were shot after being freed by owner in Zanesville, Ohio

Tony Dejak/AP

Carcasses of animals that were shot after being freed by owner in Zanesville, Ohio

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Associated Press–Sherriff’s deputies in Zanesville, Ohio shot nearly 60 exotic animals, including 18 rare and endangered Bengal tigers and 17 lions, after the owner of an exotic animal habitat freed the animals and committed suicide. It may have been his last act of spite against his neighbors and local police.

As citizens of Zanesville hid safely inside, officers with high-powered rifles and shoot and kill orders spread out throughout fields and woods to find the 56 animals that were freed. Owner Terry Thompson from the Muskingum County Animal Farm turned the animals loose before shooting himself to death Tuesday.

After an all night hunt into Wednesday afternoon, approximately 48 animals were killed. Six others, three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys, were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo there in Ohio. A wolf was found dead later in the day, leaving a lone monkey on the loose.

The animals killed included six black bears, two grizzlies, a wolf, a baboon and three mountain lions. Officials stated that the dead animals were being buried on Thompson’s farm.

Jack Hanna, TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo, defended the sheriff’s actions in killing the animals but said the death of the Bengal tigers were tragic, seeing as they were endangered. There are only about 1,400 of these cats left in the world, he said.

As the hunt dragged on, many schools were closed and homes near the area. Citizens were warned to keep children and pets inside. Officials also posted flashing signs along highways telling motorists, “Caution exotic animals” and “Stay in vehicle”.

Officers were ordered to kill the animals instead of trying to bring them down with tranquilizers for fear that they would escape into darkness and regain consciousness later.

“These animals were on the move, they were showing aggressive behavior,” Sherriff Matt Lutz said. “Once the nightfall hit, our biggest concern was having these animals out roaming.”

Thompson had had trouble with the law and neighbors. Lutz said that the sheriff’s office had received many complaints for several years about animals escaping into neighbor’s property. The sheriff’s office also said that Thompson had been charged with animal cruelty, animal neglect and animal at large before. He had also just gotten out of federal prison last month for having unregistered guns.

Thompson had actually rescued some of the animals.

The sheriff’s office started getting calls around Tuesday evening that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville. Deputies responded and found Thompson dead and all cages open.
At an afternoon conference, the sheriff let everyone know that the danger had passed and that it was okay for people to move freely again. He warned citizens that the monkey, if found, was to be shot because it was believed to be carrying a herpes disease.

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

Jack Hanna had said on CNN that this was probably the largest animal hunt in U.S. history.

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56 animals shot and killed in Ohio after being freed by owner