ZANESVILLE, Ohio (KDKA) – The Sheriff of Muskingum County no longer believes any animals are running at large.
He says there is a monkey still unaccounted for, but he says odds are the monkey was eaten by one of the cats.
Sheriff Matt Lutz said his deputies were called when motorists along Interstate 70 reported seeing wild animals.
“They had the road all blocked and wouldn’t let people go down through there. So, when I got home and found out what was going on, they said that a bunch of those tigers and such [were] loose out here,” Lutz said.
However, there were several other exotic animals that were set free.
“There were grizzly bears and black bears there. There were cheetahs, there were lions and there were tigers. Those are the primary things that we would be concerned with. Any kind of cat species and any kind of bear species,” Lutz said.
The sheriff ordered deputies to shoot to kill.
KDKA’s Harold Hayes reports that in all 56 animals were released. Authorities say 20 lions, 18 tigers and eight bears have been killed. Also, six animals were taken to the Columbus Zoo. A wolf was also killed.
Noted animal expert Jack Hanna supported that approach.
“People are saying, ‘Oh my gosh, why do you have to shoot it?’ I lost my dearest friend in 1973, or  in Knoxville, Tenn. A veterinarian with all the media right there. Five tigers got loose. He tried to tranquilize one of them. The tiger jumped 18 feet. One leap had him on the ground, and that was it. A veterinarian lost his life,” Hanna said.
Sheriff Lutz was well aware of the park and its owner, Terry Thompson, who had prior legal troubles because of his animals.
“From being here in the past, Mr. Thompson has brought all types of animals in here. We have dealt with this type of situation for a very long time and there have been all kinds of animals here of all ages,” Lutz said.
Sheriff Lutz would not provide many details on Thompson’s death as they await autopsy reports. However, it does appear to be a suicide.
“I am prepared to release at this point that based on our preliminary investigation, that we feel that Mr. Thompson died from a self-inflicted wound. We do also feel that he had released these animals at some point,” Lutz said.
The original estimate of four dozen animals on the loose does not include a number of monkeys and apes found in their cages inside Thompson’s home. They were all alive and contained.
The latest briefing from authorities in Ohio said not only were the animals’ cages opened, but some of the pens were also cut open. That means even if the animals were put back in their pen, they could have still gotten loose.