NEW: Autopsy results confirm man shot himself after freeing animals
NEW: Animals taken to the Columbus Zoo are "doing well," sheriff says
A missing monkey may have been eaten, expert says
It’s possible no more exotic animals are on the loose after deputies killed 49 lions, tigers and other wild animals freed from a local farm by its suicidal owner, an Ohio sheriff told reporters Thursday.
Of the 56 animals released Tuesday night, only a grizzly bear, two monkeys and three leopards were taken alive, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said.
Killed were two wolves; six black bears; two grizzly bears; nine male lions; eight lionesses; one baboon; three mountain lions; and 18 Bengal tigers, Lutz said Thursday.
Six animals were taken to the Columbus Zoo. Lutz said he has been in contact with Jack Hanna, the zoo’s director emeritus, and “the animals are doing well. They are eating, they are active and they are being evaluated.”
One monkey remained unaccounted for Wednesday night, Hanna said.
Lutz said Thursday there was one monkey unaccounted for, and acknowledged it could be on the loose, but said there had been no reported sightings and it was believed one of the big cats may have eaten it. It was thought to be in the same area as another monkey which was killed by the cats, he said.
There is a concern the monkey could be carrying herpes B, Lutz said. He urged members of the public not to approach a monkey if they see it but to summon authorities.
The farm’s owner, Terry Thompson, pried open cages and opened the farm’s fences before dying from a self-inflicted gunshot wound Tuesday afternoon, Lutz said.
Autopsy results confirmed the shot was self-inflicted, the sheriff said. Thompson also had a bite wound to his head consistent with a bite from a “larger-type cat,” Lutz said. The bite is believed to have occurred “within seconds to a minute” after the gunshot wound, he said.
Thompson was known to feed the animals chicken parts, Lutz said, and a pile of such items was found in the home’s driveway.
The only animals left on the property as of Thursday were horses, the sheriff said. The killed animals were buried on Thompson’s property, at the request of his wife. The animals, he said, “were like kids to her.”
Lutz said he does not know who leaked a photo of the dead animals, but told reporters he hopes to serve multiple terms and “I have a few years to find out.” He said one person attempted to steal an animal’s body.
None of his deputies are equipped with tranquilizer guns, Lutz told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360”
And with night falling Tuesday as authorities arrived, he gave the order to kill the escaped animals.
“If this had been a 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock incident, in the middle of the day, odds are high that we may have been able to surround the area and keep everything contained,” he said. “But our biggest problem that we had was nightfall. We had about an hour, hour and a half of light, and we just couldn’t take the chance.”
“These were 300-pound animals and they were very dangerous,” Lutz said Thursday.
Hanna, the zoo’s director emeritus, said he was upset by loss of “precious” animals, but defended the decision to use deadly force.
“To have no one hurt or killed here with 40-something animals getting loose is unbelievable,” he told CNN’s “The Situation Room.”
Hanna led a team of experts who arrived with four tranquilizer guns late Tuesday in an effort to corral the animals. He said the drugs take several minutes to subdue an animal even with a good shot, and one tiger had to be killed Wednesday afternoon when it turned on a veterinarian after being hit with a tranquilizer dart.
The Humane Society of the United States also said Wednesday it does not fault authorities for using deadly force in such a situation.
Both the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urged Ohio officials to put a law in place barring the keeping of exotic animals as pets.
Lutz said Ohio Gov. John Kasich had called him and expressed his support, and acknowledged that the law needs to be changed.
“I’ll do anything I have to do” to ensure such an incident never again occurs, Lutz said.
Overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday, sheriff’s deputies searched the eastern Ohio woods around the city of Zanesville with night-vision gear and patrolled in pickups, armed with shotguns. Flashing signs on the highways in eastern Ohio warned motorists Wednesday: “Caution. Exotic animals.” Schools were closed, and some frightened residents said they were keeping to their homes as sheriff’s deputies hunted the lions, tigers, leopards and grizzly bears.
“Yeah, there’s a lion on Mount Perry Road. … I just drove by and it walked out in front of me and was standing there under the street light,” one caller to 911 told deputies.
Thompson’s property is about 2 miles outside Zanesville. The 62-year-old had been released from a federal prison September 30 after pleading guilty earlier this year to possessing illegal firearms, including five fully automatic firearms. A civil case seeking forfeiture of firearms was pending, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Ohio’s Southern District.
He also had been convicted of animal cruelty and was arrested several times for traffic violations.
Lutz told reporters Thursday he could not speculate on what prompted Thompson to take his life.
Sam Kopchak, Thompson’s neighbor, said he saw lions and bears running free Tuesday evening, with one tiger chasing horses. Kopchak managed to get himself and his horse into his barn and telephoned his mother.
“It was like a war zone,” Kopchak said when authorities descended on the property, set off the road named after Kopchak’s family.
Kopchak described Thompson as aloof. He loved animals. Kopchak saw him driving one time with a baby black bear on his chest
CNN’s Moni Basu, Jordana Ossad, Andy Rose, Jason Carroll, Ninette Sosa, Ed Payne and Maggie Schneider contributed to this report.