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19 Oct 2011 - 12 May 2021
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19 October 2011 Last updated at 11:12 ET
Bears, tigers, lions and wolves escape from Ohio zoo
Sheriff Matt Lutz and wildlife expert Jack Hanna on the situation in Ohio
Police have shot and killed dozens of exotic animals that escaped from a private zoo in Zanesville, Ohio.
Sheriff Matt Lutz said he personally gave the order to shoot the escaped animals, including grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, tigers and lions.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Lutz said police believe they have now accounted for all but three animals.
The animals' owner, Terry Thompson, was found dead at the zoo, and police believe he killed himself.
This is like Noah's ark wrecking here in Zanesville”
Jack Hanna
Former director, Columbus Zoo
Mr Lutz said a preliminary investigation suggested Mr Thompson left fences open at the farm.
After a night of hunting and warnings to local residents to stay inside their homes, Mr Lutz said a mountain lion, a grizzly bear and a monkey were still unaccounted for as of Wednesday morning.
Officials said the "volatile situation" of animals escaping from the Muskingum County Animal Farm and the approach of darkness on Tuesday night had prompted the shoot-to-kill order.
Staff from the nearby Columbus Zoo hoped to tranquilise the remaining animals.
The shoot-to-kill order has come in for criticism
US nature TV host Jack Hanna, a former director of Columbus Zoo, in the nearby Ohio state capital, said tranquilising animals in the dark was incredibly dangerous, and told reporters that "the sheriff did the right thing".
"You cannot tranquilise an animal like this, a bear or a leopard or a tiger [at night]," Mr Hanna told ABC before the press conference.
"If you do that, the animal gets very excited, it goes and hides, and then we have [police officers] in danger of losing their life, and other people."
'Like Noah's Ark'
Mr Hanna said the scope of the event was immense.
"This is like Noah's Ark wrecking here in Zanesville," he said.
Dead animals were scattered around Zanesville on Wednesday morning
Overnight, police have urged people in Zanesville to stay indoors and flashing signs along nearby highways told motorists: "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle".
Several local school districts cancelled classes.
"We didn't want kids waiting by the bus stop and seeing these big animals," Mr Lutz said.
Police have several suspects in custody after they attempted to steal one of the animals Tuesday evening.
Another animal was struck by a car on a nearby highway.
Ohio has some of the country's most lax regulation of exotic pets, reports say - and some of the country's highest rates of injuries and deaths caused by them.
In 2010, an animal caretaker was killed by a bear at a property in Cleveland. The death was eventually ruled a workplace accident.
'Bad situation'
Sheriff Lutz said his office began getting phone calls at about 17:30 local time (21:30 GMT) on Tuesday, saying animals were loose on a road just west of the town.
Four armed deputies were dispatched to the zoo, where they found Mr Thompson's body and the animal cages open. Several aggressive animals found near the body were shot, Mr Lutz said.
Mr Lutz said his main concern was protecting the public in the largely rural area.
"This is a bad situation," Mr Lutz said. "It's been a situation for a long time."
Federal Division of Wildlife officers were drafted in to help with the situation, a local official said.
A neighbour of Mr Thompson, Danielle White, said he had been in legal trouble, and police said he had recently been released from jail.
"He was in hot water because of the animals, because of permits, and [the animals] escaping all the time," Ms White said. A few weeks ago, she said, she had to avoid some camels grazing on the side of a freeway.
Mr Thompson had been released from federal prison three weeks earlier after serving a one-year term on firearms charges, according to the AFP news agency.
His farm was reportedly raided June 2008, seizing more than 100 guns.
A local resident, Bill Weiser, said Mr Thompson had been a colourful character who flew planes, raced boats and owned a custom motorcycle shop which also sold guns.
"He was pretty unique," Mr Weiser told AP. "He had a different slant on things. I never knew him to hurt anybody, and he took good care of the animals."
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Times Live South Africa
Hunt on for escaped exotic animals in Ohio
49 mins ago
Boston Globe*
Zoo owner sets exotic animals free, kills himself
2 hrs ago
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All Comments 16
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16. GreenPaws
Ohia has the slackest laws on keeping wild, dangerous animals in private hands. Coincidence? So, please spare me the whining from police and residents now. You reap what you sow. Perhaps you'll learn. Meanwhile, as usual, it's the poor animals who suffer the consequences.
15. BMT
Seems nothings sacred for gun toting americans.If they're not shooting each other they're shooting animals.Surely they could have trapped/tranquilised these animals?What difference does night make for tranquilisers?Seems to be a poor excuse frankly.
14. mikka
Grizzly and black bears - exotic? Obviously so in Zanesville. The tranquilizer tale does not ring true either. Does indeed look like an excuse to go hunting for something different..
13. U14758196
Should have just made everyone stay in til the morning - its not a good enough excuse for killing animals

We put too much value on human life sadly
12. Dragonwight
Tranquillized animals don't always go to sleep straight away sometimes them roam first ok no problem. But are they seriously saying they are incapable of following said animal and keeping people away during that process.Sounds just like an excuse to get them there guns out and blast away.A real tragedy and a sober lesson for those concerned.These animals are not pets.
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