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October 19, 2011 6:58 AM
Shoot to kill: Ohio cops hunt escaped animals
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A dead lion lays by the fence on Terry Thompson's farm near Zanesville Ohio, Oct. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Heather Ellers and Dustin Burton)
(CBS/AP)  ZANESVILLE, Ohio - Schools closed and motorists were warned to stay in their vehicles as officers with assault rifles searched Wednesday for bears, big cats and other beasts that escaped from a wild-animal preserve in eastern Ohio after the owner was found dead and cages housing dozens of dangerous animals were left open.
Authorities said a preliminary investigation indicates Muskingum County Animal Farm owner Terry Thompson killed himself Monday after freeing the animals. County Sheriff Matt Lutz said autopsy results were needed to make a final determination. Lutz had said earlier that the death was not suspicious.
Lutz said several aggressive animals were near his body when deputies arrived and had to be shot. Police spent the night looking for the missing wild life, killing more than 30 of the roughly 50 animals. Authorities were still trying to determine exactly how many animals escaped.
As authorities warned that more animals still were on the loose, three school districts in the region and some private and special schools canceled classes.
Flashing signs along area highways told motorists, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle."
The animals' cages had been opened and the farm's fences had been left unsecured, police said.
Officials were pondering how to dispose of the remains of dozens of the killed animals.
The preserve in Zanesville, about 55 miles east of Columbus, had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears. Police said bears and wolves were among the escaped animals that were killed and there were multiple sightings of exotic animals along a nearby highway.
Lutz called the animals "mature, very big, aggressive" but said a caretaker told authorities the animals had been fed on Monday.
Tuesday night, more than 50 law enforcement officials — including sheriff's deputies, highway patrol officers, police officers and officers from the state Division of Wildlife — patrolled the 40-acre farm and the surrounding areas in cars and trucks, often in rainy downpours. Lutz said they were concerned about big cats and bears hiding in the dark and in trees.
Neighbor Danielle White, whose father's property abuts the animal preserve, said she didn't see loose animals this time but did in 2006, when a lion escaped.
"It's always been a fear of mine knowing (the preserve's owner) had all those animals," she said. "I have kids. I've heard a male lion roar all night."
"This is a bad situation," Lutz said. "It's been a situation for a long time."
Lutz said his office started getting phone calls at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville on a road that runs under Interstate 70.
He said four deputies with assault rifles in a pickup truck went to the animal farm, where they found the owner Thompson dead and all the animal cage doors open.
Thompson, who lived on the property, had orangutans and chimps in his home, but those were still in their cages, Lutz said.
The deputies, who saw many other animals standing outside their cages and others that had escaped past the fencing surrounding the property, began shooting them on sight.
Staffers from the Columbus Zoo went to the scene, hoping to tranquilize and capture the animals after daybreak Wednesday. The zoo's director emeritus, TV host Jack Hanna, said that was something that could not be done in the dark.
"You cannot tranquilize an animal like this, a bear or a leopard or a tiger (at nighttime)," Hanna told ABC's "Good Morning America on Wednesday. "If you do that, the animal gets very excited, it goes and hides, and then we have his (Lutz's) officer in danger of losing their life, and other people."
Lutz said his main concern was protecting the public in the rural area, where homes sit on large lots of sometimes 10 acres.
White, the preserve's neighbor, said Thompson had been in legal trouble, and police said he had gotten out of jail recently.
"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.
At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser remembered Thompson as an interesting character who flew planes, raced boats and owned a custom motorcycle shop that also sold guns.
"He was pretty unique," Weiser said. "He had a different slant on things. I never knew him to hurt anybody, and he took good care of the animals."
Weiser said he regretted that the escaped animals had to be killed. "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals," he said.
Bailey Hartman, 20, a night manager at McDonald, also said it saddened her that the animals were being shot. But, she said, "I was kind of scared coming in to work."
Hartman said Thompson's wife, who no longer lives with him, was her teacher in middle school and used to bring small animals such as a monkeys, snakes and owls to school. "It was a once-a-year type of thing, and everyone would always get excited," she recalled.
Thompson had permits to keep four black bears, said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The department licenses only native species, Jones said Wednesday.
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.
In the summer of 2010, an animal caretaker was killed by a bear at a property in Cleveland. The caretaker had opened the bear's cage at exotic-animal keeper Sam Mazzola's property for a routine feeding.
Though animal-welfare activists had wanted Mazzola charged with reckless homicide, the caretaker's death was ruled a workplace accident. The bear was later destroyed.
This summer, Mazzola was found dead on a water bed, wearing a mask and with his arms and legs restrained, at his home in Columbia Township, about 15 miles southwest of Cleveland.
It was unclear how many animals remained on the property when he died, but he had said in a bankruptcy filing in May 2010 that he owned four tigers, a lion, eight bears and 12 wolves. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had revoked his license to exhibit animals after animal-welfare activists campaigned for him to stop letting people wrestle with another one of his bears.
Mazzola had permits for nine bears for 2010, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said. 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 on Wednesday urged Ohio to immediately issue emergency restrictions on the sale and possession of dangerous wild animals. "
"How many incidents must we catalogue before the state takes action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals," Humane Society Wayne Pacelle said in a statement.
© 2011 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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by glad2bretired October 20, 2011 8:15 AM EDT
Typical comments from the Monday morning quarterbacks club. My experience in law enforcement tells me the people who whine about what the police are doing would be standing in line to sue everybody they could think of when their dog or cat or, heaven forbid, child was killed by one of these animals.
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by chainger October 19, 2011 10:17 PM EDT
If the POLICE could SHOOT these animals that close they should have a least been tranq . first ATTEMP if they were on the ground, they should have called in more help from vets and zoos at best try . these animals on
on a huge amount of ground seems like they found them pretty fast ! the Cop that ordered that massacare should be held accountable...He never gave them a chance
I was in Africa and never able to see that many gorgeous animals.. Pathetic!

IF THEY WERE JUST FED!I doubt they would have killed so quickly as these animals kill to feed.. and were prob..used to humans
I hope that this is enough to have these damm places shut down! all over the US as soon as possible and the guy that owned him is now in HELL!
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by farfromhuman October 19, 2011 6:47 PM EDT
Shoot to kill!!! Wow I thought this was about a rapist or a bank robber at large? NO we wouldn't give those orders to do that to a dangerous felon or murderer only to animals that while some yes were out of the elements and escaped but no TO ALL of them. Sad state this country is in... Be careful of what you believe and read. You are only getting one side of the story and if you trust your local police department then I fell sorry for you
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by loosecheetah October 19, 2011 5:56 PM EDT
quick. lure the animals into one of our local bars and someone there can shoot it. Don't worry, he won't have been drinking. See, Ohioans having the most lax laws on owning wild animals SEEMS like like a good idea, keeping that pesky gov't out of your constitutional rights, but all it takes is one exotic animal farm escape....maybe we should let teachers and school kids carry guns to school so they don't have to take the day off when stuff like this happens.
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by iseepinkelefants October 19, 2011 1:25 PM EDT
Disgusting. Meanwhile zoos can't afford animals and here are dozens lying dead for no reason. I hope whomever is that guy's next of kin sues the hell out of those cops. There's no reason why they couldn't use tranquilizer darts. And if they were out of their element (no doubt) there are plenty of experts they could have called up. They don't have zoos in Ohio? Or trackers?
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by Forty-Four October 19, 2011 1:29 PM EDT
I refer you to the statement I made below. They didn't necessarily have the time to get the right dosages for each animal. Not to mention the risk of missing. What if the dart doesn't work? No dart will work immediately, what happens to the officer if they are too close? It is life and death between these wild animals, Police, and civilians. You have to do what you have to do to ensure that we will survive.
by Forty-Four October 19, 2011 1:34 PM EDT
Another note on tranqs. If you don't have enough dose for a particular animal, it wont work and now that animal is mad. If they use too much, they kill the animal anyway. There just is too much risk to take the time to get all of that stuff prepared. I think they made the right call here, even if it is an unfortunate one.
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by Forty-Four October 19, 2011 1:03 PM EDT
Honey, get the kids! We's havin Elephant for dinner!
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by Forty-Four October 19, 2011 1:07 PM EDT was probably the Zoo Keeper's last wish, to see what it was like to release all of those animals in sort of a "stampede" from a safer location, like "beyond"
by rrnc5lmce October 19, 2011 1:02 PM EDT
the actions of these Ohio cops are typical of our police forces..TRIGGER-HAPPY!...they should have contacted the proper authorities on how to corral these animals or use tranquilizer darts to capture them..anything to use their firearms..maybe hey haven't used them for a long time and there was their we lost our chance to see and enjoy these wonderful animals because of some narrow-minded public officials...
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by Forty-Four October 19, 2011 1:06 PM EDT
I wouldn't expect you to know what is going through the mind of an officer when in a life or death situation. Police use discretion, tranqs aren't necessarily going to work, and definitely won't work immediately. These are wild animals, many unpredictable. For now, they ARE the proper authorities.
by jmclu64 October 20, 2011 12:05 AM EDT
by TomAlciere1 October 19, 2011 12:06 PM EDT
One rhinoceros was found at a medical school and got arrested for trespassing, because he was on a hippocampus.
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by Bojax39 October 19, 2011 11:37 AM EDT
Omigawd! It's looking right at us! Quick, Hoss... FIRE!

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by actornaught October 19, 2011 1:14 PM EDT
"If looks could kill, it would've been us instead of him"
by larlinc October 19, 2011 11:10 AM EDT
THIS IDIOT never should have been allowed to have these animals. He could have killed himself without endangering the animals. I hope he is in hell. As for the idiot cops in Ohio; they had to shoot to kill?? Are you kidding me. Stupid jackasses are butchering the poor animals that were the real victims.
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