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October 19, 2011 10:37 PM
Sheriff: Missing Ohio monkey believed eaten
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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 - Ohio Sheriff Matt Lutz said he is confident that the monkey missing from a Muskingum County exotic animal farm was dead on Wednesday, and therefore the active search for the primate was called off, reports CBS 10-TV. According to Lutz, the monkey is thought to have been eaten by one of the escaped cats.
Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals — including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions — in a big-game hunt across the state's countryside Wednesday after the owner of an exotic-animal park threw their cages open and committed suicide in what may have been one last act of spite against his neighbors and police.
As homeowners nervously hid indoors, officers armed with high-powered rifles and shoot-to-kill orders fanned out through fields and woods to hunt down 56 animals that had been turned loose from the Muskingum County Animal Farm by owner Terry Thompson before he shot himself to death Tuesday.
After an all-night hunt that extended into Wednesday afternoon, 48 animals were killed. Six others — three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys — were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo. A wolf was later found dead.
Those destroyed included six black bears, two grizzlies, a wolf, a baboon and three mountain lions. Dead animals were being buried on Thompson's farm, officials said.
Exotic animal farm owner had history of trouble
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"It's like Noah's Ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," lamented Jack Hanna, TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo.
Hanna defended the sheriff's decision to kill the animals but said the deaths of the Bengal tigers were especially tragic. There are only about 1,400 of the endangered cats left in the world, he said.
"When I heard 18, I was still in disbelief," he said. "The most magnificent creature in the entire world, the tiger is."
As the hunt dragged on outside of Zanesville, population 25,000, schools closed in the mostly rural area of farms and widely spaced homes 55 miles east of Columbus. Parents were warned to keep children and pets indoors. And flashing signs along highways told motorists, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle."
Officers were ordered to kill the animals instead of trying to bring them down with tranquilizers for fear that those hit with darts would escape in the darkness before they dropped and would later regain consciousness.
"These animals were on the move, they were showing aggressive behavior," Sheriff Matt Lutz said. "Once the nightfall hit, our biggest concern was having these animals roaming."
The sheriff would not speculate why Thompson killed himself and why he left open the cages and fences at his 73-acre preserve, dooming the animals he seemed to love so much.
Thompson, 62, had had repeated run-ins with the law and his neighbors. Lutz said that the sheriff's office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals escaping onto neighbors' property. The sheriff's office also said that Thompson had been charged over the years with animal cruelty, animal neglect and allowing animals to roam.
He had gotten out of federal prison just last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns.
John Ellenberger, a neighbor, speculated that Thompson freed the animals to get back at neighbors and police. "Nobody much cared for him," Ellenberger said.
Angie McElfresh, who lives in an apartment near the farm and hunkered down with her family in fear, said "it could have been an `f-you' to everybody around him."
Thompson had rescued some of the animals at his preserve and purchased many others, said Columbus Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters.
It was not immediately clear how Thompson managed to support the preserve and for what purpose it was operated, since it was not open to the public. But Thompson had appeared on the "Rachael Ray Show" in 2008 as an animal handler for a zoologist guest, said show spokeswoman Lauren Nowell.
The sheriff's office started getting calls Tuesday evening that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville. Deputies went to the animal preserve and found Thompson dead and all the cages open. Several aggressive animals were near his body and had to be shot, the sheriff said.
Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Merry was among the first to respond Tuesday. He said he shot a number of animals, including a gray wolf and a black bear. He said the bear charged him and he fired his pistol, killing it with one shot when it was about 7 feet away.
"All these animals have the ability to take a human out in the length of a second," said Merry, who called himself an animal lover but said he knew he was protecting the community.
"What a tragedy," said Barb Wolfe, a veterinarian with The Wilds, a nearby zoo-sponsored wild animal preserve. She said she managed to hit a tiger with a tranquilizer dart, but the animal charged toward her and then turned and began to flee before the drug could take effect, and deputies shot the big cat.
At an afternoon news conference, the sheriff said that the danger had passed and that people could move around freely again, but that the monkey would probably be shot because it was believed to be carrying a herpes disease.
"It was like a war zone with all the shooting and so forth with the animals," said Sam Kopchak, who was outside Tuesday afternoon when he saw Thompson's horses acting up. Kopchak said he turned and saw a male lion lying down on the other side of a fence.
"The fence is not going to be a fence that's going to hold an African lion," Kopchak said.
Danielle Berkheimer said she was nervous as she drove home Tuesday night and afraid to let her two dogs out in the yard.
"When it's 300-pound cats, that's scary," she said. She said it had been odd Tuesday night to see no one out around town, and the signs warning drivers to stay in their cars were "surreal."
Some townspeople were saddened by the deaths. At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser said: "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals."
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them. At least nine people have been injured since 2005 and one person was killed, according to Born Free USA, an animal advocacy group.
On Wednesday, the Humane Society of the United States criticized Gov. John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire in April. The organization urged the state to immediately issue emergency restrictions.
"How many incidents must we catalog before the state takes action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals?" Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO, said in a statement.
Kasich said Wednesday during a meeting of Dix Communications editors: "Clearly, we need tougher laws. We haven't had them in this state. Nobody's dealt with this, and we will. And we'll deal with it in a comprehensive way."
Barney Long, an expert at the World Wildlife Fund, noted that tigers in general are endangered. He said there appear to be fewer of them living in the wild than there are in captivity in the U.S. alone. Over the last century, the worldwide population has plunged from about 100,000 in the wild to as few as 3,200, he said.
More than half are Bengal tigers, which live in isolated pockets across Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, India and Bangladesh, he said in a telephone interview
"The tragic shooting of 18 tigers in Ohio really highlights what is happening on a daily basis to tigers in the wild throughout Asia," Long added in an email. "Their numbers are being decimated by poaching and habitat loss, and that is the real travesty here."
© 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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See all 138 Comments
by oldman67 October 20, 2011 11:02 AM EDT
Sure glad they didn't do something stupid like tranqulize them.
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by Riverjump October 20, 2011 10:59 AM EDT
Autopsy all the critters to find the monkey. Riduculous? So's the country-bumpkin sheriffs dept. Bang bang!
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by endpcnow October 20, 2011 10:57 AM EDT
Typical human behavior: Stupidity got them into this mess and stupidity got them out of the mess.
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by credibility2 October 20, 2011 10:56 AM EDT
I commend the enforcement authorities for taking swift action against these dangerous animals in the dark of night by killing them to protect human life. Ohio never should have allowed this man to have these animals, but most definitely should have taken them away from him after he was released from jail. Some of the animals weren't killed and were found during the light of day and apparently transported to at least one other zoo. In a situation like this, human life trumps animals every time. I'm glad no humans were injured or killed by these dangerous animals. It's a shame the guy committed suicide, but if he cared at all for his animals he would have taken steps to turn them over to proper entities, like zoos and then killed himself. I think he unlocked their cages not to set them free, but to go on a rampage, injuring and killing people.
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by rrozsa October 20, 2011 10:54 AM EDT
How do they know for sure exactly how many animals there were? I'm not so confident that they are all "accounted for", since this guy's paperwork many not have been the most stellar. Anyway, Halloween trick-or-treating will be a little creepier than usual this year.
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by Forty-Four October 20, 2011 10:56 AM EDT
Umm, there were a certain number at the zoo. Now they are all dead, except for one unaccounted for monkey which is believed to have been eaten.
by buckn October 20, 2011 10:24 AM EDT
Wow! Big game hunters in Colorado. They must be so proud. I wonder why capturing the animals or sedating them never crossed their manly-man minds.
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by buckn October 20, 2011 10:32 AM EDT
oops. Ohio
by archda October 20, 2011 10:52 AM EDT
maybe you should have volunteered to sedate them 1/2 hr before dark, i'd have paid to watch that.
by archda October 20, 2011 10:18 AM EDT
bojax39, what an idiot..
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by amdnrb22 October 20, 2011 10:18 AM EDT
What happened to the giraffe(s)?
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by KJeroH October 20, 2011 10:14 AM EDT
The blame begins with Thompson. He had to have enough sense to know that throwing the cages open would lead to the animals being killed. Obviously there were viable alternatives to shoot-to-kill. The animals weren't likely to roam too far. However, a sheriff's department simply is not set up for sophisticated operations required for something like this. More effort should have been made to capture, but under base systems, the sheriff did what he had to do.
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by IMP578 October 20, 2011 10:09 AM EDT
I have many thoughts on this. First of all why was an obviously dangerous and mentally ill man allowed to have all these animals? Ohio obviously has no animal protection laws. Also, looking at my Sheriff's Department - look at the people who take this job, low pay, not the brightest and most of them power crazy and mentally challenged. I bet they were out there having a good ol' time shooting these "beasts". Heck, a free canned hunt. Why didn't they do something about that place before this tragedy. I hope they all rot in hell and never have another good day in their lives. As for Ohio, and this rotten town, I hope you will all pay for this. Why weren't people told to stay indoors until the animals could be captured. Like I said before, they seized the moment for a safari. Ohio rednecks. My next concern is - where are all the animal protection groups like Defenders and WWF? I have not heard peep from them. Oh, I forgot, they are too busy this time of year sending out materials and bugging people for money. Shame on you! This incident shows again how humanity as a whole has deteriorated. May be mother nature will decide before too long that a 7 Billion pest can no longer be tolerated on this planet.
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by archda October 20, 2011 10:22 AM EDT
imp578, you are an idiot, which i think is worse than an Ohio redneck. What would you want in your hood? Tigers running around eating your kids? Also this "mentally ill" man fought his ass off for this country in Nam, know the facts before you show your ignorance.
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