Animals are still on the loose in Zanesville, Ohio, after police have spent hours in a shoot-to-kill strategy, hunting down the wild creatures Terry Thompson released from his Muskingum County animal farm to terrorize local residents before shooting himself in an apparent suicide.
Thompson, 61, apparently opened up the animals' cages around 6 p.m. on Oct. 18, setting loose his menagerie before killing himself with a handgun. He was released last month from a federal prison for a firearms conviction when Zanesville deputies found 133 guns on his property. We feel Mr. Thompson died from a self-inflicted wound, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz reported.
The only animals believed to still be on the loose are a wolf and a monkey, Zanesville police said Oct. 19. A grizzly bear and mountain lion believed to be on the loose were killed last night, another big cat was hit by a car on the highway, and an escaped monkey was eaten by one of the lions.
Lutz told reporters, however, he can't be 100 percent sure that the animals not yet hunted down or captured are the only ones unaccounted for. The 51 animals in Thompson's preserve were almost all wild, and many of them are ferocious. Both Lutz and Hanna have urged the public to remain cautious, staying inside until the animals could all be accounted for. Several schools in the area have canceled the day's classes, and Thompson's wife is speaking to the authorities about the existing animals.
Shoot to Kill
Some 51 animals were kept on Thompson's Muskingum County farm. ABC New's wildlife expert, Jack Hanna, initially tried to take most of the freed animals to a preserve at the Columbus Zoo, and some early captures were successful, including five animals taken to the Zoo today.
When Lutz's men arrived at the animal preserve however, following reports of the escape, they found grizzly bears, Bengal tigers, leopards, black bears and lions roaming the property of Thompson's farm. The animals were mature, very big, and aggressive, according to reports. It was about to get dark, and the creatures were moving farther and farther away. Lutz made the call, urging his police deputies to kill the animals at close range.
Police shot at least 25 animals using their sidearms. These are 300 pound Bengal tigers that we had to put down, Lutz told ABC. [The animal] was very aggressive.
Some animals were shot with tranquilizers first, but the guns had only occassional effect. The tiger, shot by a deputy from 15 yards away, just went crazy, Lutz said, starting to run towards the town. Officers were forced to use lethal ammunition, hunting down the animal and killing it.
Thompson Had History of Animal Abuse
Lutz said he could see [the escape] happening, based on Thompson's apparent mental state and the condition of the preserve, where numerous pins had been removed and gates left open. The guy was depressed, Lutz told ABC News, and he loved the animals that much, maybe.
Or, perhaps, he didn't love them enough. The collector of lions, monkeys, and other exotic pets had a history of animal abuse, according to Larry Hostetler, an animal welfare expert who knew him. Thompson kept the now-freed creatures in small pens, and allegedly fed his lions using the meat from horses who had died from malnutrition.
Hostetler, executive director of the Muskingum County Animal Shelter, had charged Thompson's farm with animal neglect and mistreatment. Thompson liked to show off the animals he'd collected on his 50-acre farm, with a roster that has included animals such as a camel, a giraffe and a panther.
But he never sold tickets to the event, or entertained Zanesville tourists with his mistreated attractions. His interest was deeply personal, and according to Hostetler, deeply unhealthy. Thompson had been ejected from pet fairs in the past for bringing bear cubs to events, and the people he hired were often let go after they challenged him on his care of the abused and dangerous creatures.
These animals, Hostetler told The National Post, were not socialized, and they were not tame enough to be around the public... It was enough to be in the law, [but] it's very sad.
Hanna, visiting the Muskingum County animal farm with his vets, also condemned the abused animals' conditions in the Zanesville farm. [This is] abominable, he said, saying the animals were living in filth. I'm not the governor, Hanna told reporters at a news conference, but I'll do everything I can over my dead body to put these people [like Thompson] out of business.