ZANESVILLE, Ohio – Dozens of animals escaped Tuesday from a wild-animal preserve that houses bears, big cats and other beasts, and the owner later was found dead there, said police, who shot several of the animals and urged nearby residents to stay indoors.
The fences had been left unsecured at the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, in east-central Ohio, and the animals’ cages were open, police said. They wouldn’t say what animals escaped but said the preserve had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears. They said bears and wolves were among 25 escaped animals that had been shot and killed and there were multiple sightings of exotic animals along a nearby highway.
“These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa,” Sheriff Matt Lutz warned at a press conference.
He called the escaped animals “mature, very big, aggressive” but said a caretaker told authorities the preserve’s 48 animals had been fed on Monday. He said police were patrolling the 40-acre farm and the surrounding areas in cars, not on foot, and were concerned about big cats and bears hiding in the dark and in trees.
“This is a bad situation,” Lutz said.
Lutz said his office started getting phone calls at about 5:30 p.m. 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.
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. They said there had been no reports of injuries among the public.
Staffers from the Columbus Zoo went to the scene, hoping to tranquilize and capture the animals.
Lutz said people should stay indoors and he might ask for local schools to close today. At least four school districts in the area canceled classes.
Lutz said his main concern was protecting the public.
“Any kind of cat species or bear species is what we are concerned about,” Lutz said. “We don’t know how much of a head start these animals have on us.”