Flashing signs on the highways in eastern Ohio warned motorists Wednesday: “Caution. Exotic animals.”
Schools shuttered and some frightened residents said they were keeping to their homes as sheriff’s deputies hunted lions, tigers, leopards and grizzly bears that escaped from a preserve after the death of the owner.
Terry Thompson, 62, was found dead and authorities were waiting on the results of an autopsy, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said. But he added that preliminary investigations indicated Thompson released his animals and then died from a self-inflicted wound. He had pried open cages and left the farm’s fences open.
Thompson owned between 48 and 51 exotic animals. Lutz said most of them had been accounted for, but at least three — a mountain lion, a grizzly bear and a monkey — were still missing. Most of those that had escaped from their pens were put down.
Lutz said his deputies, who found themselves in a volatile situation, had to shoot some of the animals at close range. A Bengal tiger was put down after it got agitated from a tranquilizer shot.
“We are not talking about your normal everyday house cat or dog,” Lutz said. “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 he received calls from people who were concerned that the animals had been killed. He said authorities were trying to use tranquilizers whenever possible to save their lives.
Sheriff’s deputies used night vision equipment until daylight Wednesday to continue their search, which was hampered by rain. Lutz said deputies, armed with shotguns, were patrolling areas in pickup trucks.
Cross posted from CNN.com