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Veterinarians enlisted to help capture escaped and dangerous zoo animals from Ohio sanctuary

Law enforcement forced to kill lions, tigers, bears, giraffes and other animals to protect public
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Oct 19, 2011
By dvm360.com staff
Zanesville, Ohio — Four veterinarians were on the scene to help local law enforcement catch dozens of escaped and dangerous zoo animals — lions, tigers, cheetahs, bears and others — from a local exotic-animal preserve on Oct. 18.

Two veterinarians from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and two veterinarians from The Wilds, a 10,000-acre conservation center in Cumberland, Ohio, were asked by local law enforcement to help deputies track and contain the animals, says Patty Peters, vice president of community relations for the Columbus Zoo. Famed animal handler Jack Hanna, director emeritus at the Columbus Zoo, also was on the scene.

The Muskingham County Sheriff’s Department discovered the escaped animals late Tuesday, and found the owner of the 46-acre preserve, 62-year-old Terry Thompson dead inside the preserve, which is about 50 miles east of Columbus.

Based on two conflicting lists kept by caretakers at the compound, Sheriff Matt Lutz says 48 to 51 animals were kept there. Some monkeys and orangutans kept in the home of the compound remained in their cages, but the majority of the other cages had been opened letting the exotic animals escape. The exotics included lions, tigers, cheetahs, bears, giraffes, wolves, monkeys and other animals.

Police indicated Wednesday that Thompson may have died of a self-inflicted wound after opening the cages, but his cause of death is unknown. As for the animals, sheriff’s deputies were not in a position to tranquilize and catch the animals due to darkness. In fact, the escaped animals were described as mature and “aggressive.” A Bengal tiger that deputies initially tried to tranquilize reportedly went “crazy” after a dart failed to sedate it. The animal had to be shot, Lutz says.

“We had to put it down,” he says.

By late Wednesday afternoon only a monkey and a wolf were believed to be on the loose. Most of the other animals were shot by law enforcement officials. At least one animal was struck on a local highway, and a monkey at the compound was killed by a lion, according to news reports.

Over the years, Thompson reportedly had run-ins with law enforcement regarding animal cruelty, according to police.

“This is a bad situation. It’s been a bad situation for a long time,” says Lutz.

Lutz defended the actions of area deputies, despite protests by animal-rights groups about the killings. The safety of citizens remained the first priority for police, he says.

The Humane Society of the United States released a statement blaming Gov. John Kasich for failing to renew emergency rules on exotic animal ownership put in place by his predecessor Gov. Ted Strickland. The rules expired in April and banned the sale and acquisition of certain dangerous exotic animals such as bears, big cats, primates, wolves and large constrictor and venomous snakes. Existing owners were grandfathered in as long as they registered with the state by May 1, 2011, and had not been “convicted of an offense involving the abuse or neglect of any animal pursuant to any state, local or federal law.”

HSUS is now calling on Ohio to issue new emergency rules on exotic ownership.