The town of Zanesville, Ohio, was on lockdown on Wednesday morning as police tracked down dozens of exotic animals that escaped from a wild-animal preserve and were on the loose.
The preserve housed big bears, big cats, and other wild beasts. According to police, the owner was found dead and several of the animals have been shot.
These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa, Sherriff Matt Lutz warned at a press conference.
Officials did not say how the animals escaped from the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, however the animals' cages were open. Officials also did not give specifics as to what animals had escaped, but noted that they were mature, very big, and aggressive.
Police were patrolling the 40-acre farm and surrounding areas by car, concerned about the big cats and bears hiding in the forest.
This is a bad situation, Lutz said. It's been a situation for a long time. We don't know how much of a head start these animals have on us.
On Wednesday morning, there were no reports of injuries to the public.
At least four school districts in the area cancelled classes on Wednesday and flashing signs along area highways told motorists, Caution exotic animals and Stay in vehicle.
Police received calls at about 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday that wild animals were on the loose just west of Zanesville, Ohio on a road that runs under Interstate 70.
Four deputies with rifles then went to the animal preserve where they found the owner, Terry Thompson, dead and all the animal cage doors open. Officials did not say how he died, but noted that several aggressive animals were near his body when deputies arrived and had to be shot.
Thompson, who lived on the property, also had orangutans and chimps that he kept in his home. Those were still in their cages.
Thompson had been cited in the past for animal abuse and neglect. According to county records, Thompson had 11 misdemeanor charges filed against him -- either animal at large or animal cruelty -- between 2004 and 2009.
Also, a Zanesville man by the name of Terry Thompson pleaded guilty last year to illegal firearms possession, including five fully automatic firearms and three short-barreled firearms without serial numbers, according to federal authorities.
Thompson's neighbor, Danielle White, told the Associated Press that he had been in some trouble lately.
He was in hot water because of the animals, because of permits, and (the animals) escaping all the time, White said. A few weeks ago, she said, she had to avoid some camels which were grazing on the side of a freeway.
Staff members from the Columbus Zoo were called to the scene in hopes of tranquilizing and capturing some of the remaining animals. The caretakers are also putting food in the animals' open cages in an attempt to lure them back in.
Jack Hanna, former director of the Columbus Zoo and well known animal commentator, was also assisting sheriffs in the area to search for the animals.
The Muskingum County Animal Farm had cheetahs, wolves, lions, tigers, bears, giraffes, and camels among other exotic animals. Police report that 35 of the estimated 48 escaped animals have been shot and killed as deputies combed the area using night vision with an order of shoot-to-kill Tuesday night. There have been multiple sightings of other exotic animals along a nearby highway.
We all love our animal world. And we love the people world, too. People's safety is first, and then we have animals to protect, Hanna told NBC4.
Hanna said tranquilizing an animal at night is very difficult. He said that is not an excuse but an explanation.
Zanesville, Ohio, is a city of about 25,000 residents about an hour east of Columbus.
The state of Ohio has some of the weakest restrictions on exotic pets and also some of the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.
The state requires permits for bears but doesn't regulate the ownership of nonnative animals, such as lions and tigers.
The Humane Society of the United States said on Wednesday that the episode shows Ohio needs restrictions on the possession of wild animals.
Hanna said he hopes to meet with Governor John Kasich to talk about exotic animal laws.
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