2011-10-22 / News

Wild animals set free

By Scott Rawdon

NEW LEXINGTON – Definitely, don’t feed the animals. As of Wednesday morning, Muskingum, Licking, and Perry county residents were warned to be on the lookout for dangerous exotic animals following a mass escape from an exotic animal farm near Zanesville. According to the Muskingum County Sheriff’s Office, Terry Thompson, owner of the farm, was found dead Tuesday night and his animals were roaming freely.

Perry County dispatcher Jeff Wilson said Wednesday morning that a “large cat” and “a couple of wolves” were reported in Perry County and sheriff’s department had multiple units in Madison Township hunting for escaped animals.

A Heath Police Department dispatcher said there was a “sighting” reported in Heath, but police weren’t able to confirm the sighting. It was one of about four Licking County reports of sightings.

Kim Hambel, director of operations in Muskingum County said he wasn’t sure how much danger Perry and Licking county residents were in Wednesday morning. “There’s still a chance of something happening,” he said. “We’re telling residents to keep an eye out.”

Later Wednesday it was confirmed that Thompson shot himself to death after releasing the animals. A monkey and wolf were still at-large Wednesday afternoon. Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz reported that 56 animals escaped and at least 48 were shot and killed by authorities who were under orders to kill the animals because they were considered aggressive and posed a public threat.

Lutz said the released animals included one wolf, 18 tigers, 17 lions, three mountain lions, six black bears, two grizzly bears, and a baboon. Six recaptured animals were transported to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Columbus Zoo Director emeritus Jack Hanna assisted in the search and defended Lutz’ decision to shoot the escaped animals under the circumstances.

Highway signs warned motorists to stay in their cars and Zanesville, West Muskingum, and Maysville school district closed during the incident.

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