Animals Loose in Ohio: Town Under Lockdown

Good Morning America

A grizzly bear, mountain lion and a monkey are still on the loose in Ohio after authorities hunted down as many as 51 ferocious animals who were set free by the owner of an animal preserve before killing himself.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz told reporters he can't be 100 percent sure that those three animals are the only ones unaccounted for.

Lutz and ABC News' wildlife expert Jack Hanna, who will take the living animals at the preserve to the Columbus Zoo, urged the public to remain cautious.

"If you see these animals you do not run," said Hanna, who added he is most concerned about the mountain lion, since those animals have "great leaping ability."

The sheriff said that when his men arrived at the animal preserve in Zanesville,  which has a population of 25,000, they found bears, lions, Bengal tigers, black bears, leopards roaming the area. Since it was about to get dark, he feared the animals would escape into the night.

He said his deputies had to kill animals at close range with their sidearms.

"These are 300 pound Bengal tigers that we had to put down," Lutz said, describing that animal as "very aggressive."

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 animal that got away, described as a big cat, was hit by a car on a highway some distance away, he said. An escaped monkey was eaten by one of the lions.

The animals' cages were opened up by Terry Thompson, who owned an animal preserve in Zanesville. Thompson killed himself after freeing his menagerie, Lutz 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," Lutz said.

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," Hanna said.  

Thompson's wife has spoken to authorities and is arriving today to talk the Sherriff's department "about the existing animals," Lutz said.  

Thompson, 61, was recently released from prison after serving one year on federal weapons charges. According to investigators he has been cited in the past for animal abuse and neglect.

Hanna and his vets visited the farm today, calling conditions deplorable. He plans to take all five living animals to the Columbus Zoo.

Lutz said at a news conference that residents should stay inside until the animals, which escaped around 6 p.m. Tuesday, are rounded up. Several schools across the area have cancelled classes for today. <p>

Police, who have been ordered to shoot to kill, describe the loose animals as "mature, very big and aggressive." <p>

"These are wild animals, wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa," Lutz said at a news conference Tuesday evening. <p>

Lutz said the Sheriff's dept has been aware of animal farm for several years, and that it "has been a huge problem."   

Hanna, who is also well-acquainted with the preserve, vowed, "I'm not the governor but I'll do everything I can over my dead body to put these people out of business."

The animals were kept in cages that looked similar to a giant "wire dog pen," Lutz said.   

Hanna described the conditions as "abominable," saying the animals were living in "filth."

As many as 51 wild animals, including cheetahs, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, lions, a white Siberian tiger, camels and giraffes were running free in Zanesville Tuesday night, which has a population of about 25,000 residents. Police said that orangutans and chimps were found in Thompson's home, but they were still in their cages. <p>

Deputies are working with the animals' caregiver, who says the animals were fed on Monday. <p>

They're putting food in the animals' pens in the hopes they might return, where they can then be secured. <p>

The Ohio State Highway Patrol has cordoned off seven square miles near Interstate 70 and officers are using infrared devices to find the animals. <p>

On "GMA" today Hanna said that in controlling this situation human life and animal life must both be considered, as does timing of capture. <p>

"Human life has to come first but that's what we have to look for. We have to take care of our animal life. You cannot tranquilize an animal at night. It's hard enough during the daytime," Hanna said.<p>

Danielle White, one of Thompson's neighbors, said that she saw a loose lion in the area in 2006. <p>

"It's always been a fear of mine knowing [the preserve's owner] had all those animals," she said. "I have kids. I've heard a male lion roar all night." <p>

Thompson has been warned repeatedly over the last decade to get his animals under control – and no less than 30 times in the past year. He was arrested in April of 2005 for cruelty and torture of cattle and bison he had on his property, according to the website pet-abuse.com. He was charged with one count of having an animal at large, two counts of rendering animal waste and one count of cruelty to animals.

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