Authorities in Zanesville, Ohio said Wednesday they were forced to kill dozens of dangerous animals — including lions, tigers and other large carnivores — after as many as 51 escaped from a local farm.
“It is still not a completely secured area,” Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “We’re at about 43 to 44 of these animals that are accounted for. However, there are some that we have shot last night that we have not got vehicles down to recover.”
“When our officers arrived on the scene, we had approximately one hour to an hour and a half of daylight. As officers got out of their cruisers, there were animals running loose outside of the fenced area… I had deputies that had to shoot animals with their side arms at close range. That’s how volatile this situation was… I gave the order on the way here that if animals looked like they were going out, they went down.”
Lutz explained that some attempts to collect animals alive had been unsuccessful.
“We just had a huge tiger — an adult tiger, I’m estimating 300 pounds — that was very aggressive. We did get one of the vets close enough, unbelievably so, within 10 to 15 yards, got a tranquillizer in it, and this thing just went crazy and started to take off and headed away from us to the wooded area, and our officers put it down,” he said.
Renowned animal expert Jack Hanna told reporters that Ohio was weeks away from enacting more restrictive laws on exotic animals.
“I just got done talking to the governor’s office ten minutes ago,” Hanna said. “[Former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland] signed a bill to make these laws much stricter, it was headed over to [Republican Gov. John Kasich]. The problem is who enforces the laws? Who are the people that go out and inspect these places… I’ll do anything I can over my dead body to put these people out of business, to shut these auctions down.”
He added: “By the way, the sheriff did the right thing. I know we have animal rights groups giving me threatening calls right now, all sorts of things. ‘My gosh, Jack Hanna is saying this.’ What was he supposed to do at nighttime with tigers and lions and leopards go out there? In the wild, this would be a different situation.”
Authorities ordered local residents to stay indoors and cordoned off the area around the farm, where the owner was found dead near several open cages.
The incident began around 5:30 pm on Tuesday when police started receiving emergency calls about wild animal sightings.
Officials closed area schools and ordered residents to proceed with extreme caution.
Police said at least 48 animals — including grizzly and black bears, wolves, and several species of large cats, such as lions, tigers and cheetahs — were kept in cages outside the house, while dozens more animals — mainly primates — lived indoors and had not escaped.
The farm’s owner, 62-year-old Terry Thompson, had been released from federal prison three weeks earlier after serving a one-year term on firearms charges, it said.
News report said federal agents raided the farm in June 2008, seizing more than 100 guns, and that Thompson had previously been fined for letting his animals wander.
Watch this video from CNN, broadcast Oct. 19, 2011.