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Posted at 11:15 AM ET, 10/19/2011

Exotic animals set free by owner before apparent suicide; animal lovers upset by killings (photos)

(Watch the sherriff’s press conference here, and see a photo gallery of the escaped animals here.)

In a move that has upset animal lovers around the nation, police have killed dozens of exotic animals after the owner of an Ohio preserve set them free. The sheriff in Zanesville, Ohio said the owner likely killed himself on his farm after releasing animals. Two animals, a wolf and monkey, remain on the loose.


A dead lion lays by the fence on Terry Thompson's farm near Zanesville Ohio Tuesday. (Dustin Burton,Heather Ellers - ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Schools in the area were closed Wednesday and people told to stay indoors as officers with assault rifles patrolled the area for animals that Sheriff Matt Lutz called “mature, very big, aggressive.” The preserve included cougars, lions, camels, tigers, and grizzly bears.

Lutz had ordered a controversial shoot-to-kill order Tuesday night, but lifted it when daylight arrived Wednesday.


Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz speaks to the media Tuesday. (Trevor Jones - AP)
“I hope everyone stays safe but the true tragedy in Ohio is the mass killing of all the released exotic animals,” a New York architect tweeted Wednesday. “Awful news,”a clothing designer wrote. Another designer on Twitter: “It breaks my heart.”

Staffers from the Columbus Zoo arrived last night at the scene with tranquilizers, which officers are now hoping to use on the remaining animals, local news station Channel 5 reports.

The zoo’s director emeritus, TV host Jack Hanna, told ABC's “Good Morning America” Wednesday it was unlikely the animals could have been tranquilized in the dark, but that officials should have better luck in the daylight.

Hanna said any animals captured alive would be welcome at the Columbus Zoo.

Food has also been put in the animals’ open cages to try to lure them back.

Bill Weiser, a neighbor of the animal farm’s owner, Terry Thompson, told CBS that he was unhappy the escaped animals had been killed. “It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals.”

Terry Thompson is believed to have let the animals out of their cages at the Muskingum County Animal Farm before he died, which the sheriff said was apparently a suicide.

Weiser remembered Thompson as an interesting man who owned a custom motorcycle shop and liked to fly planes and race boats.

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

Ohio is one of the states with the weakest laws on exotic pets, and with the most incidents of injuries and deaths caused by them each year.

This story has been updated.

By  |  11:15 AM ET, 10/19/2011

Tags:  National, exotic animals, Ohio

 
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