Police track down, kill exotic animals freed from farm

Police with orders to shoot to kill left 48 tigers, lions, and other wild animals dead Wednesday after their owner freed dozens of exotic beasts from his game preserve and then killed himself. Authorities don’t know why he did it.

Terry Thompson stands with some of his award-winning Percheron horses on his farm west of Zanesville

Terry Thompson stands with some of his award-winning Percheron horses on his farm west of Zanesville

ZANESVILLE, Ohio — Police with orders to shoot to kill left 48 tigers, lions, and other wild animals dead Wednesday after their owner freed dozens of exotic beasts from his game preserve and then killed himself. Authorities don’t know why he did it.

Officers with assault rifles stalked the animals overnight through the wooded rural area and were still searching for one last wolf and monkey still on the loose Wednesday afternoon. Area residents were told to stay indoors.

“This was a very, very bad situation,” County Sheriff Matt Lutz told a news conference. “These animals were on the move, and they were showing aggressive behaviour.”

Animal bodies were seen scattered near a barn on the game preserve, and they were later buried there.

Lutz said that it appeared Muskingum County Animal Farm owner Terry Thompson opened the farm’s cages and gates and shot himself.

Startled deputies arriving on the scene Tuesday night saw aggressive animals near Thompson’s body and outside the farm’s fence and started shooting.

The preserve also had cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and grizzly bears, among others.

“To have no one hurt and killed here with 40-something animals loose was unbelieveable,” Jack Hanna, former director of the Columbus Zoo, told CNN.

“This was like a bunch of loaded guns running around here.”

Also among the dead were 18 Bengal tigers, two grizzly bears and 17 lions.

It was as if Noah’s Ark had wrecked in the middle of the United States, Hanna said. He stressed the danger of letting the animals roam.

“If you had 18 Bengal tigers running around, you folks wouldn’t want to see what would happen,” Hanna added.

Six surviving animals, including a grizzly bear, were taken to the Columbus Zoo.

Amid the confusion, there were multiple sightings of exotic animals up to about 16 kilometres away. “Some sort of cat” was hit and wounded on a local highway, Lutz said.

The sheriff defended the shootings, saying police had just an hour or so before sundown Tuesday and weren’t carrying tranquilizer darts.

Even when one 300-pound (135-kilogram) animal was shot with a tranquilizer dart after animal authorities arrived, the animal “went crazy,” ran off and had to be shot, Lutz said.

Hanna defended the sheriff against criticism that the animals should have been captured alive.

“What was he to do at nighttime with tigers and lions, leopards, going out there?” Hanna said. “In the wild, this would be a different situation.”

Authorities would not say how Thompson killed himself, and no suicide note was found. Lutz said the sheriff’s office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals at the property.

Thompson had gotten out of federal prison just last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns.

Lutz told CNN that he had feared someday finding Thompson dead at his farm from an animal attack.

Ohio has some of the United States’ weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.

Neighbour Danielle White, whose father’s property abuts the animal preserve, said Thompson had been in trouble because of repeated animal escapes. White said.

A few weeks ago, she had to avoid some camels grazing on the side of a freeway.

“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.”

John Ellenberger, another neighbour, speculated that Thompson freed the animals to get back at neighbours and police.

“Nobody much cared for him,” Ellenberger said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Alberta vaccine rollout expanding to front-line health-care workers

More than 240,000 eligible health-care workers can begin booking vaccine appointments starting… Continue reading

File photo
The Red Deer Rebels will have three new assistant coaches when the WHL regular season starts on Friday. Brad Flynn (left), will be on the bench alongside fellow assistant Ryan Colville (right) head coach Brent Sutter (middle). (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Sutter steps down as Red Deer Rebels head coach

Red Deer Rebels Owner, GM and head coach Brent Sutter has stepped… Continue reading

Premier Jason Kenney announced $200 million more money that will benefit seniors living in continuing care on Wednesday. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program expanding

Alberta’s in-school rapid screening test program will expand to as many as… Continue reading

Parents and students learned Tuesday what the coming school year will look like. It's pretty much back to business as usual, said Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. School precautions include frequent cleaning, keeping students in the same groups where possible, planning the school day to allow for physical distancing and staying home when sick. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta’s largest school board says no to United Conservative draft school curriculum

CALGARY — Alberta’s largest school board says it will not use the… Continue reading

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan is among those who have signed an open letter criticizing the government’s return to stricter health measures. (Advocate file photo).
Updated: Kenney tells UCP caucus COVID-19 dissent OK, breaking health rules means expulsion

15 MLAs released letter on Wednesday critical of new health restrictions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau watches a speaker appear by videoconference during a news conference in Ottawa, Friday, April 9, 2021. Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau winds up Liberal convention with election campaign-style speech

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau wound up a three-day Liberal convention Saturday with… Continue reading

Team Canada skip Brendan Bottcher makes a shot against Italy at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 6, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Men’s world curling championship in Calgary in COVID limbo

CALGARY — The men’s world curling championship in Calgary remained suspended Saturday… Continue reading

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. on Wednesday April 22, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Non-profit Quebec law centre to aid environmental group targeted by Alberta oil firm

QUEBEC — The Quebec Environmental Law Centre is coming to the aid… Continue reading

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives cite empathy, relationships as ways to help expand their movement

OTTAWA — Conservatives should show empathy with Black residents who say they’ve… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. New Democrats are reconvening for the second day of a three-day policy convention as they look to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

OTTAWA — New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a… Continue reading

FILE - In this Monday, Oct. 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a joint statement with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his commitment to the Republican Party — and raise the possibility that someone else will be the GOP's next presidential nominee — in a closed-door speech to donors Saturday night, April 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Trump in 2024? He says only that ‘a Republican’ will win

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former President Donald Trump plans to affirm his… Continue reading

A cruise ship sits docked waiting for passengers to be evacuated in Kingstown, on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, Friday, April 9, 2021 due to the eruption of La Soufriere volcano. (AP Photo/Orvil Samuel)
Ash-covered St. Vincent braces for more volcanic eruptions

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent — People who ignored an initial warning to evacuate… Continue reading

Owner of 4 Point Taekwondo Kevin Mejia holds a board as organizer and martial artist Kevin Olsen breaks it in Edmonton on Friday, April 9, 2021. One hundred martial artists from around the world, will be breaking a board for an event called "Break for a Breakthrough." The idea is for martial artists to unite and re-engage with the arts because they may have drifted away or lost enthusiasm as a result of the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Break for a Breakthrough: Canadian hosts international martial arts demonstration

EDMONTON — Whether he’s breaking a wooden board, a clay tile, cement… Continue reading

Most Read