iOS app Android app More

Exotic Animals Escape Muskingum County Animal Farm In Ohio; Owner Found Dead

First Posted: 10/19/11 09:44 AM ET Updated: 12/19/11 05:12 AM ET

ZANESVILLE, Ohio (AP) -- Officers armed with assault rifles patrolled Zanesville Wednesday morning, a day after police killed dozens of animals that escaped from a wild-animal preserve, and where the owner's body later was found.

Warning that more animals still were on the loose, officials expected up to four school districts to cancel classes as the remaining bears, big cats and other beasts from the Muskingum County Animal Farm were hunted down.

Close to 30 of the 48 animals were shot and killed on Tuesday. Officials were pondering how to dispose of the remains.

"These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa," Sheriff Matt Lutz said at a press conference. He told residents to stay indoors and sent updates to them via Twitter. There were no reports of injuries to the public.

The fences had been left unsecured at the animal farm in east-central Ohio, and the animals' cages were open, police said.

The preserve 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, Terry Thompson, dead and all the animal cage doors open. He wouldn't say how Thompson died but said several aggressive animals were near his body when deputies arrived and had to be shot.

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.

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.

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.

SEE OTHER STORIES ABOUT ANIMALS IN THE NEWS:
Loading Slideshow...
  • Elephant Votes in Thailand

    Elephant puts a ballot in ballot box during campaign to promote the general election in Ayutthaya province on June 21, 2011. The July 3 general election will be the first since Thailand was rocked by its deadliest political violence in decades last year, when more than 90 people died in street clashes between armed police and opposition protesters. (Pornchai Kittiwongsakul, AFP/Getty Images)

  • Feline Elvis Dies At Age 9

    <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=726326990716438&set=a.561893947159744.145379.100000174321818&type=1&theater" target="_hplink">Elvis,</a> a Savannah cat, who weighed 24.8 pounds and measured 40 inches from tip to tail, recently died from a tumor in its sinus cavity.

  • Gemini, The Two Faced-Kitten

    Sadly, Gemini, a kitten from Rhode Island, had a short life.

  • Rare Lobsters

    The odds of seeing these three together are roughly 1 in 900 quintillion -- but a series of timely donations has allowed Connecticut's Maritime Aquarium to put together one of the most unusual lobster displays ever. While the blue lobster is a 1 in a million catch, the orange and calico are even rarer -- with the odds of finding them roughly 1 in 30 million.

  • LEFT: The Stargazer fish which bears an uncanny resemblance to Homer Simpson. (Caters News / Getty Images)

  • At two weeks old, Beyonce, a Dachsund mix born at a Northern California animal shelter, is just under four inches long and is in the running for the title of World's Smallest Dog. Here she is pictured resting on an iPhone.

  • Sprinkles the Koala

    'Sprinkles' the Koala following her life saving radiation treatment at the Brisbane Veterinary Specialist Centre in Brisbane, Australia, August 9, 2011. Suffering from an extremely rare case of excessive drooling, sprinkles developed a skin infection due to the excessive moisture flowing from her mouth.

  • Trouble, The Millionaire Dog

    Hotel magnate Leona Helmsley left $12 million for her dog Trouble when she died in 2007, but a judge reduced the bequest to $2 million.

  • Alexander Lacey, Animal Trainer

    Alexander Lacey, the big cat trainer for Ringling Brothers And Barnum & Bailey Circus, has been working with lions and tigers for 18 years, ever since he followed his dad into the business.

  • Charlie the Cat

    He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? No, it's Charlie -- an unlucky cat who happens to look just like the evil Lord Voldemort from the "Harry Potter" films. Charity workers are trying to find a new home for the British kitty, who lost his nose and ears to skin cancer.

  • Elephant in Water Reservoir

    Indian army personnel use a bulldozer during a rescue mission to save a wild elephant trapped in a water reservoir tank at Bengdubi army cantonment area some 25 kms from Siliguri on August 30, 2011. A wild elephant fell into the water reservoir tank as a herd crossed the area. Army personnel of 16 Field Ammunition Depot along with wildlife elephant squad of Mahananda wildlife sanctuary joined forces to save the animal.

  • Dogs Behind The Wheel

    The New Zealand SPCA taught dogs to drive as part of a campaign meant to demonstrate the intelligence or rescue dogs and boost adoption rates. Yes, these dogs are actually driving cars. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/05/dogs-driving-cars-new-zealand-spca_n_2244476.html" target="_hplink">Read the whole story here.</a>

  • Big Litter

    Hania, a 4-year-old Great Dane, feeds her 3-day-old puppies in the Warsaw suburb of Nowa Iwiczna on March 17. Hania gave birth by cesarean section to 17 puppies.

  • Charles the Monarch

    Charles the Monarch, a Labradoodle, looks so much like a lion that he has sparked multiple 911 calls from concerned citizens fearing that the king of beasts was on the loose

  • Elephant with Prosthetic Leg

    Motala, age 50, rests in the afternoon sun with the new prosthetic made for her at the Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) elephant hospital in the Mae Yao National Reserve August 29, 2011 Lampang,Thailand. Motala lost a foot many years back after stepping on a land mine and now is on her third prosthetic, as they need to be changed according to the weight of the elephant. The world's first elephant hospital assists in medical care and helps to promote a better understanding of the elephant's physiology, important in treating them for illness. For generations elephants have been a part of the Thai culture, although today the Thai elephant mostly is domesticated animal, since Thailand now has few working elephants. Many are used in the tourism sector at special elephant parks or zoos, where they perform in shows. In some cases Thailand is still deals with roaming elephants on the city streets, usually after the mahout, an elephant driver, becomes unemployed, which often causes the elephant serious stress.

  • Silverback Strut

    Ambam, a silverback gorilla at the Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent, England, shows off the stance that's turned him into a viral video sensation. Ambam doesn't do the typical ape walk -- he stands and struts like a person.

  • Heidi, the cross-eyed opossum

    Heidi the cross-eyed opossum is pictured in her enclosure at the zoo in Leipzig, eastern Germany on June 9, 2011. Heidi moved to her new enclosure at the Gondwanaland tropical experience world, which will be inaugurated on July 1, 2011 and where Heidi will be presented to the public for the first time. Cross-eyed Heidi made the headlines in December 2010 and became an internet hit, winning more than 65,000 "friends" on social networking website Facebook.

  • Shortest Roadworthy Car

    The "Mirai", which means 'future' in Japanese, measures 17.79 inches from the ground to highest part of the car. It was created by students and teachers of The Automobile Engineering Course at Okayama Sanyo High School in Asakuchi, Japan.

  • Painted Roadkill

    This photo provided by Sean McAfee from Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, shows a dead raccoon that McAfee saw with the road dividing line painted over it before he stopped his motorcycle to take the picture on Franklin Rd. in Johnstown, Pa. According to PennDOT traffic engineer John Ambrosini, paint crews know to avoid such animals and usually have a foreman on the job to clear any dead animals off the road before the paint-spraying truck equipment passes by. This crew didn't have a foreman that day, and the equipment was too big to turn around in traffic on the curvy, narrow road so the line could be repainted without the carcass in the way.

  • Open Rabbit Sport Tournament

    Lisa Marie Bach leads her pet rabbit Marie through an obstacle course in the middle-weight category at the 5th Open Rabbit Sport Tournament (5. offene Kaninchensport Turnier) on August 28, 2011 in Rommerz near Fulda, Germany. Eighty rabbits competed in light-weight, middle-weight and jumping-for-points categories at today's tournament in Rommerz that is based on Kanin Hop, or Rabbit Hopping. Rabbit Hopping is a growing trend among pet rabbit owners in Central Europe and the first European Championships are scheduled to be held later this year in Switzerland.

  • Catherine Baucom, Surgeon, Avoids Traffic Jam By Riding Child's Bike To Operating Room

    When a traffic jam kept surgeon Catherine Baucom from driving to work to meet a patient, she borrowed the bike of a 7-year-old and started pedaling.

  • Leaping Lemurs

    A group of lemurs encounters a unusual roadblock on the way to their feeding den: a turtle. The lemurs clearly don't want to get into a territorial spat with the creature... so they take turns leaping over it in this photo sequence shot at the Indianapolis Zoo.

  • IKEA Monkey

    Look at that coat! <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/10/ikea-monkey-toronot_n_2270707.html?1355150852" target="_hplink">This little animal</a> got loose in an IKEA parking lot in Toronto. It was apparently scared, but eventually was reclaimed by its owners who were inside the store when the monkey escaped from its cage.

  • Andre The Turtle

    Thirteen months ago, Andre the turtle suffered massive injuries from boats that left a massive hole in his shell and the inside of his body exposed to the elements. However, thanks to some innovative treatments, including using orthodontic techniques to repair his shell and a vacuum treatment on open wounds, he is scheduled to be set free on Aug. 3.

  • Earless Bunny

    A new-born rabbit without ears is held in Namie City, just outside the 30km exclusion zone of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. The owner of the rabbit says it was born without ears on May 7.

  • China Liger Cubs

    In this photo taken on Thursday, May 19, 2011, a dog nurses two liger cubs at a zoo in Weihai in east China's Shandong province. Cong Wen of Xixiakou Wildlife Zoo in eastern China says four cubs were born to a female tiger and a male lion on May 13. The tiger mom fed the ligers for four days then for unknown reasons abandoned them, she says. Chinese zoo workers brought in a dog to nurse them instead, but two died of weakness. (AP)

  • Animals In The News

    This pet duck, named 'Duckie,' won't hurt himself on the hot sands of San Diego's beaches thanks to a pair of customized booties made especially for him. Previously, the owner, who goes by the name "Miss Love," had been putting duct tape over his feet instead.

  • Space Alien?

    The "alien" creature discovered in South Africa on July 10, 2013 is actually a baboon, a local veterinarian confirmed this week. The next slide is a close-up of the animal's head.

  • Cat Cafes Threatened In Tokyo

    TOKYO - JANUARY 20: A woman strokes a cat at Nekorobi cat cafe on January 20, 2009 in Tokyo, Japan. Changes to Japan's Animal Protection Law threaten the future of these furry bars by imposing a curfew on cats and dogs. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

  • Elephant Polo -- Sept. 2011

    Elephant polo players from the Spice girls team (left) and the British Airways British Army team battle it out for 5th place during the final day at the King's Cup Elephant polo tournament Sept. 11, 2011, in Hua Hin, Thailand.This year marked the 10th edition of the polo tournament with 12 international teams participating for the unusual annual charity sports event.

  • Rebecca Reichart, Leroy Nunez, Nicholas Coutu, Claudia Grant, Kenneth Krysko

    In an Aug. 10, 2012 photo provided by the University of Florida, Florida Museum of Natural History researchers, from left, Rebecca Reichart, Leroy Nunez, Nicholas Coutu, Claudia Grant and Kenneth Krysko examine the internal anatomy of the largest Burmese python found in Florida to date, on the University of Florida campus. The 17-foot-7-inch snake weighed 164 pounds and carried 87 eggs in its oviducts, a state record. Following scientific investigation, the snake will be mounted for exhibition at the museum for about five years, and then returned for exhibition at Everglades National Park. (AP Photo/University of Florida, Kristen Grace)

  • Bear in Hot Tub

    Jenny Sue Rhoades sat down on her couch to watch television when something outside caught her eye. It was a large Florida black bear walking through the back yard of her Barry Court home in southwest Seminole County.

  • Posing Praying Mantis

    Giant Malaysian Shield Praying Mantis pictured in Igor's studio in Munich, Germany.

  • Titanic Toad

    Of course she's unhappy. Who likes getting weighed right after the holidays? This is Agathe, a cane toad, and she's sitting on a toy scale during an annual animal inventory at the Hanover Zoo in Germany on Jan. 5. Agathe weighs a slight hop over 4 pounds.

  • Piglet In Hotel Lobby

    This adorable injured baby pig was found roaming a hotel lobby near Honolulu's airport. The Hawaiian Humane Society renamed her Pukalani and says she'll be available for adoption later in March.

  • Off-Road Alligator

    The flattened and preserved reptile is at the center of possible legal action against three area men charged with it's theft and subsequent display on a Ford pickup at a nearby mud-bogging party in Michigan.

  • Dog With Man's Face

    Meet Tonik, a poodle-shih tzu mix that is up for adoption at <a href="https://www.homewardboundawg.com/" target="_hplink">Homeward Bound Pet Rescue</a> in Mishawaka, Ind. (Credit:<a href="http://www.petphotosbyrenny.com/" target="_hplink"> Renny Mills Photography</a>)

  • Roo the Reading Dog

    Roo the Reading Education Assistance Dog (R.E.A.D) helps a pupil at Graytown Elementary School in Graytown, Ohio.

  • Star the Duck

    District councils have slapped a collecting ban on one of the West Country's most loveable characters - Star, the bowtie wearing DUCK (pictured) See SWNS story SWDUCK; Star the duck, who has raised more than £6,500 may be forced to quit after he has been told he is no longer allowed to collect for Children's Hospice South West without a permit. District councils believe Star should be fair to all charities and want to limit how often members of the public are asked to donate by various organisations to avoid it becoming "irritating." His owner, Barrie Hayman, from Bideford, Devon, was left furious at the decision and wants to try and raise the most money possible for the sick children.

  • 'Cupid' The Cat -- Jan. 2012

    This stray orange tabby in Houston earned the nickname 'Cupid' after he survived a piercing shoulder to shoulder wound in January 2012. A vet safely removed the arrow and 'Cupid' is expected to make a complete recovery.

  • Britain's Saddest Puppy

    Six-month-old puppy Princess has such delicate skin she can't go outside. While other dogs run free at Britain's Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary, Princess must gaze through the window. But this canine, otherwise known as Britain's Saddest Puppy, has become a minor celebrity in the media.

  • Giant Shark Caught In Mexico.

    Two fishermen in northeastern Mexico claim they netted a dead great white shark estimated to be near 20-feet-long on April 15, 2012.

  • World's Smallest Cow

    Swallow, an 11-year-old sheep-sized cow from the West Yorkshire region of England, is one of the stars of the 2011 edition of "Guinness World Records." This 33-inch-high Dexter is the world's smallest cow.

  • Lion Tries to Eat Baby Dressed as Zebra

    This situation sounds scary, but it's actually quite cute. A lion at the Oregon Zoo tries to get a baby! One-year-old Jack was visiting the zoo with his family while wearing a black and white striped jacket. There were lots of children at the zoo that day, but the lion only came over whenever Jack sat down by the glass. The lion scratched and bit the glass partition separating the two, but the he seemed to be unphased by the commotion. Some think the lion thought Jack looked like a baby zebra.

  • Seal Pup Survivor

    This little seal was nearly strangled to death when it got tangled up in a discarded G-string thong near the Lovers Leap Cliffs of New Zealand. Luckily, a passerby saw the panicked pup, and conservation workers were able to free the animal from the offending garment.

  • Kitten Found In Car Engine

    After driving about 85 miles to Santa Cruz, Calif., a man discovered that this runaway kitten had been inside his car's engine in March 2012.

  • Shar Pei Nurses Endangered Tiger Cubs

    In this picture taken, Monday, June 4, 2012, Shar Pei dog Cleopatra feeds two baby tigers in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, southern Russia. Two baby tigers whose mother refused to feed them found an unusual wet nurse, a wrinkled, sand-colored Shar Pei dog named Cleopatra. The cubs were born in late May in a zoo at the October health resort in Sochi.

  • Horse rescued from pool

    The horse, which is boarded on the 4 acres of land next to the O'Brien's home, backed into the swimming pool where it became trapped. Officials with the Brevard Zoo, a veterinarian, and the Brevard County Fire Department responded along with a hazardous materials team. The horse was not injured.

  • Two Legged Lamb

    A farmer in China's Shandong province has saved a two-legged lamb after being touched by its struggle to survive. Farmer Cui Jinxiu said the lamb was one of two born in July 2010. "The first one was a very healthy and normal one," she told Rex USA. "However, the second one surprised me. With a further look I was surprised to find that the lamb only has two legs." The family thought the lamb wouldn't survive, but it proved its strong desire to live. "I thought of dumping it after it was born, but the next morning it even stood up by itself."

  • Orangutan Kicks Smoking -- Sept. 2011

    An orangutan in Malaysia is kicking its smoking habit. Wildlife officials have removed Shirley from a state zoo after the captive primate was regularly spotted smoking cigarettes that zoo visitors had tossed into its enclosure.

  • World's Smallest Living Cat -- Oct. 2011

    Fizz Girl, a Munchkin Cat from San Diego, Calif., has grabbed the record title for Shortest Living Cat. Measuring in at just 6 inches tall from floor to shoulder, Fizz Girl weighs 4 pounds, 2.3 ounces. Munchkin cats are a special breed that have little legs caused by a naturally occurring genetic mutation.

FOLLOW HUFFPOST GREEN

Filed by Ben Muessig  |