Oct 192011
 
Authors: Geraldine Baum, Ashley Powers and Michael Muskal McClatchy-Tribune

After the shooting stopped and panic subsided, only a monkey was still at large.

The death toll was 49. The carnage included one baboon, six black bears, eight lionesses and 18 rare Bengal tigers. The owner of the private menagerie also was dead. He apparently shot himself after loosing the wild animals on a small community in rural Ohio.

“It’s like Noah’s ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio,” said Jack Hanna, a former director of the Columbus Zoo.

But local residents and animal activists nationwide didn’t speak of this sad story in Old Testament terms. For them, it was a very modern tale of inadequate laws, a night of terror, and innocent animals killed by reluctant authorities who felt they had no other choice.

The first complaint came into the Muskingum County sheriff’s office Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. An animal had wandered off Terry Thompson’s exotic animal farm near the interstate. Then came another call—of another sighting.

Since 2004, there had been at least three dozen complaints about Thompson’s animals on the loose—a giraffe grazing by a highway, a monkey in a tree. Typically, Thompson was fined $75.

He’d also faced more serious charges of animal mistreatment. Recently, he had served a year in federal prison for gun possession and was ordered confined for a year to home.

By the time deputies arrived at his 73-acre farm Tuesday evening Thompson, 62, was dead. He had cut open pens and unlocked the farm gates. The tigers, black bears and lions were out, along with two wolves, a baboon, a monkey, three mountain lions and two grizzly bears.

Sheriff’s deputies, who discovered his body in the driveway, were suddenly face to face with lions and grizzlies.

“I had deputies that had to shoot animals with their side arms,” said Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz told reporters.

Overnight nearly 50 armed officers headed out, in a driving rain, hunting the area around the farm. Some wore night goggles to spot animals that might be hiding behind trees. The zoo in Columbus, Ohio, which is about 55 miles east of Zanesville, sent veterinarians with tranquilizer guns.

In one harrowing incident, Lutz said there wasn’t time to wait for a tranquilizer to take effect:

“We just had a huge tiger, an adult tiger that must’ve weighed 300 pounds that was very aggressive. We got a tranquilizer in it, and this thing just went crazy.”

And it was shot.

Word quickly spread that Thompson, well-known to locals as a strange man with an obsession for exotic animals, had set his menagerie free. Schools in the area were shuttered Wednesday and parents told to keep close watch on their kids.

When Terri Wolfe, who works at the county animal shelter, heard the news, she immediately called her son. His boys are 4 and 6, and “very curious little guys.”

“Terry Thompson’s animals are on the loose!” Wolfe recalled telling him. “Make sure you keep the grandkids in!”

By Wednesday morning, 49 of Thompson’s 56 animals were dead and buried on his property at the request of his distraught wife. Authorities had captured a grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys, and the animals were on their way to the Columbus Zoo for safe keeping. The monkey, which might be carrying hepatitis B, was still missing.

Almost 24 hours since that first 911 call to his office, Sheriff Lutz described his deputies as exhausted and overwhelmed.

“We didn’t go to the academy and get trained on how to deal with … Bengal tigers,” he said.
But citizens should feel safe, he added.

 Posted by at 4:35 pm

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