© Tony Dejak/APA sign warning motorists that exotic animals are on the loose rests on I-70 Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, near Zanesville, Ohio. Owner Terry Thompson left the cages open and gates unsecured before committing suicide. 48 animals had been gunned down including lions, tigers, bear, and other animals. A wolf and a monkey were still on the loose as of Wednesday mid-afternoon.
When the killing ended, the exotic carnage was scattered across the countryside around this town in south-central Ohio.

Eighteen Bengal tigers and 17 lions. Six black bears, two grizzlies, three mountain lions and a baboon. Two wolves.

In all, 56 beasts were set free Tuesday by owner Terry Thompson, who then killed himself. Nearly all of the animals died.

"It's like Noah's Ark, like, wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," said Jack Hanna, former director of the Columbus Zoo.

As police with high-powered rifles tracked the beasts through the fields and woods around Zanesville, schools were closed, and terrified residents stayed inside, kids and pets close by.

Resident Danielle Berkheimer was afraid to let her two dogs out.

© Heather Ellers and Dustin Burton/APA dead lion lays by the fence on Terry Thompson's farm near Zanesville Ohio Tuesday Oct. 18, 2011. Police killed dozens of animals Tuesday that escaped from the wild-animal preserve 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.
"When it's 300-pound cats, that's scary," she said.

Sheriff Matt Lutz said police regretted having to kill the animals, but feared that a tasered or tranquilized animal could escape in the dark.

"When you're dealing with a 300-pound Bengal tiger or you're dealing with a two- to three-hundred pound bear, I don't think I'm the one who's going to try a Taser," Lutz said.

Late Wednesday, police said only a monkey was still unaccounted for. Three leopards, a young grizzly bear and two small monkeys still in cages were taken to the Columbus Zoo.

Bad blood between animals' owner, neighbors blamed in Ohio carnage

Terry Thompson threw open the cages of the exotic animals he loved and committed suicide in what may have been one last act of spite against his neighbors and police.

Thompson, 62, had had repeated run-ins with the law and neighbors of his 73-acre Muskingum County Animal Farm, officials said. Sheriff Matt Lutz said Wednesday that it was not known why Thompson killed himself or left open the cages and fences, dooming the animals he seemed to love so much. But Lutz said that the sheriff's office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals that had escaped onto neighbors' property. Thompson had been charged dozens of times with animal cruelty, animal neglect and allowing animals to roam. Typically, he was fined $75, the Los Angeles Times reported.

© Trevor Jones/GannettMuskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz addresses a news conference on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011 in Cumberland, Ohio.
Thompson had gotten out of federal prison last month after serving a year for possessing unregistered guns after more than 100 were seized by federal agents on his property.

He had rescued some of the animals at his preserve and purchased others, Columbus Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said.

It was not immediately clear how Thompson managed to support the preserve or why it was operated. It was not open to the public. But he had appeared on the "Rachael Ray Show" in 2008 as an animal handler for a zoologist guest, said show spokeswoman Lauren Nowell.

John Ellenberger, a neighbor, speculated Thompson wanted to get back at neighbors and police. "Nobody much cared for him," Ellenberger said.

Sam Kopchak, another neighbor, said he was outside Tuesday afternoon when he saw another neighbor's horses acting up. Kopchak said he turned and saw a male lion on the ground on the other side of a fence. It wasn't a fence that was going to hold an African lion," Kopchak said.

By Tuesday evening, the sheriff's office was flooded with calls that wild animals were loose. Deputies went to the animal preserve and found Thompson dead and the cages open. Several aggressive animals were near his body and had to be shot, the sheriff said.

© Tony Dejak/APInvestigators walk around a barn as carcasses lay on the ground at the Muskingum County Animal Farm Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011, in Zanesville, Ohio.
As homeowners nervously hid indoors, officers equipped with high-powered rifles and shoot-to-kill orders spread out through fields and woods to hunt down more than 50 animals.

After an all-night hunt that extended into Wednesday afternoon, 49 animals were dead. The only animal still on the loose was a monkey. Six others -- three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys -- were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo.

As the hunt dragged on outside of Zanesville, population 25,000, schools closed in the mostly rural area of farms and widely spaced homes 55 miles east of Columbus.

At his news conference Wednesday afternoon, Lutz defended the decision to shoot to kill instead of trying to bring the animals down with tranquilizers. He said officials feared that animals hit with darts would escape in the darkness before they dropped and later regain consciousness.

"These animals were on the move, they were showing aggressive behavior," Lutz said. "Once the nightfall hit, our biggest concern was having these animals roaming."

Jack Hanna, a TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo, defended the sheriff's decision to kill the animals, but said the deaths of the 18 Bengal tigers were especially tragic. There are only about 1,400 of the endangered cats left in the world, he said.

© Chris Cook/GannettTerry Thompson and his wife Marion with some of their award-winning Percheron horses on their farm west of Zanesville, Ohio in 2008. Terry Thompson, owner of a wild animal preserve released dozens of animals from their cages before he shot and killed himself on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011.
"When I heard 18, I was still in disbelief," Hanna said. "The most magnificent creature in the entire world, the tiger is."

Some area residents said they were saddened by the deaths. At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser said: "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals."

Thompson's wife, Marian Thompson, 60, was away on business, her lawyer, Dean Wilson, told the (Zanesville) Times Recorder. The newspaper said she went to speak with Hanna and Lutz about the animals that survived.

"I held her, and she just shook," Hanna said, according to the newspaper. "She begged me not to take away her family. It's all she has."

Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.

On Wednesday, the Humane Society of the United States criticized Gov. John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire in April. Later in the day, Kasich said, "Clearly, we need tougher laws. We haven't had them in this state. Nobody's dealt with this, and we will. And we'll deal with it in a comprehensive way."