Sheriff: Chicken Parts Found Near Exotic Animal Owner's Body


UPDATED: Thursday October 20, 2011 7:41 PM

Chicken parts were found close to the body of the owner of a private exotic animal preserve, the Muskingum County sheriff said on Thursday.

Terry Thompson shot himself shortly after he opened his exotic animals' cages and released them from his property, the sheriff said.

Thompson was then bitten by a large cat, possibly a Bengal tiger, within a minute of being shot, Sheriff Matt Lutz said.

Lutz said there was no indication that Thompson wanted to entice the animals to eat his body, 10TV's Andy Hirsch reported.

Lutz called off the search for the dozens of exotic animals that were released from a private preserve was called on Wednesday night after the sheriff announced he was confident that the final missing monkey was eaten by another escaped animal.

The dogs and horses found on Thompson's farm will remain in the custody of his wife, the sheriff said.

Forty-eight wild animals were shot by deputies with pistols and high-powered rifles after escaping from Thompson's preserve, 10TV News reported.

Bears, lions, tigers and other animals scattered across Zanesville neighborhoods and close by rural Licking County.

Lutz said that deputies shot 48 animals - including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions - after Thompson, 62, opened their cages and killed himself.

"It was just a bomb ready to explode at any time," said Fred Polk, who lived near Thompson.  "The next thing I know is there's about 25-30 lions, tigers; all kinds of exotic animals running loose."

Polk said that some of the animals ran freely in his neighborhood, including his own yard.

According to Polk, one of the deputies shot a tiger, lion and mountain lion near his driveway.

"I witnessed a Bengal tiger, two black bears, African lioness, all being contained by no more than a smooth wire livestock fence," said Muskingum County sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Merry.

He said that within seconds, one of the black bears started coming his way.  Merry said he was armed and prepared to protect.

"To me, there's no pride in what we had to do in killing these animals," Merry said.  "However, I do take pride in knowing that people in this county and community can sleep a little easier at night because of the actions I unfortunately had to do."

Some of the animals were rescued and transported to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.  A young grizzly bear, two Celebes macaques and three leopards including a black leopard were doing well, according to a statement released by the zoo on Thursday morning.

According to the zoo, the animals were receiving around the clock care and monitoring to assess their conditions and ease their transition.

Gov. John Kasich took criticism for allowing a statewide ban to expire on buying and selling exotic animals.  According to the Humane Society of the United States, Ohio has some of the weakest restrictions of exotic pets in the U.S. and some of the highest injuries and deaths caused by animals.

"It's one thing to own a zebra or a giraffe and be an exotic, but it's another to own a lion or a bear and the responsibility that comes with that is huge," said Ohio State Rep. Brian Hill, of Muskingum County.

Former Columbus Zoo director Jack Hanna, who defended Lutz's decision to kill the animals, said that he will offer 10,000 acres at The Wilds in southeast Ohio as a sanctuary for exotic animals whose owners may be forced to give them up under a new state law.

The animals destroyed also included six black bears, two grizzlies, a baboon, a wolf and three mountain lions.

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