Ohio authorities search for escaped exotic animals

Posted Oct 19, 2011 by Kim I. Hartman
Schools have been closed and residents urged to stay indoors in one Ohio community after dozens of exotic animals were released from an animal preserve by their owner, who later allegedly committed suicide.
Captive Siberian tiger at the Copenhagen Zoo  Denmark.
Captive Siberian tiger at the Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark.
Bill Ebbesen
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said at a press conference, that it appeared Terry Thompson, owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm near Zanesville, set the animals free and then took his own life.
Lutz defended his shoot-to-kill order after 48 to 51 animals, including Bengal tigers, mountain lions, grizzly bears, wolves, giraffes, camels, and monkeys, were freed from their cages and found roaming in residential neighborhoods on Tuesday.
"I gave the order on the way here that if animals looked like they were going out, they went down. We could not have animals running loose in this county, we were not going to have that," said Lutz. "We are not talking about your normal everyday house cat or dog. These are 300-pound Bengal tigers that we have had to put down. When we got here, obviously, public safety was my number one concern. We could not have animals running loose in this county."
Zanesville Mayor Howard Zwelling said they were trying to use tranquilizers to subdue and capture the animals but in some situations it has been necessary to shoot to kill.
Sheriff's deputies, armed with shotguns, utilized night vision equipment to search for the animals during Tuesday night's rain. As of Wednesday morning at least three of the animals, including a grizzly bear, lion, and monkey were still free, causing concerned authorities to close schools in the area for the day.
Residents in the Kopchak road area, I-70 and I-40 areas of Zanesville were asked to stay inside their homes and to remain cautious when going outdoors.
CNN reports, Thompson was recently freed from prison after serving time for federal charges of possessing illegal firearms, including five fully automatic weapons. Thompson was convicted in 2005 of animal cruelty and animals at large.
Muskingum Sheriff's deputies are being assisted by Columbus Zoo director emeritus Jack Hanna, who traveled to Zanesville to assist with the search. Hanna warned, "the search for the animals was dangerous and human life came first. We're trying our best to make sure no one is hurt doing this."
Hanna told NBC News, "If you see one of these animals, you do not run. You yell and scream. Ninety percent of the time, it will run. You cannot run from it. It doesn't see you as a human. It sees you as something fleeing, or something to play with … take it down. That's one thing you don't do is run. Call the sheriff."
The Humane Society of the United States is calling for a statewide crackdown on the private ownership of exotic animals in Ohio, reported CNN. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society said, "Every month brings a new, bizarre, almost surreal incident involving privately held dangerous wild animals, In recent years, Ohioans have died and suffered injuries because the state hasn't stopped private citizens from keeping dangerous wild animals as pets or as roadside attractions. Owners of large, exotic animals are a menace to society, and it's time for the delaying on the rule-making to end."