Escaped Animals on the Loose from Ohio Game Preserve

Oct 19, 2011, 10:24 by R.E. Christian

The owner of an exotic game preserve near Zanesville, Ohio, may have committed suicide after releasing the animals, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz stressed the determination about the death of owner Terry Thompson was preliminary and deputies "haven't found a suicide note at this point."

Lutz said he hadn't talked to the coroner about Thompson's injuries. The exotic animals escaped and Thompson's body was found Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Lutz said, "We're down to three unaccounted-for" animals -- a mountain lion, a bear and a monkey.

"We're still not in a 100 percent secure area," Lutz told a news conference.

Sheriff's deputies put down 31 of the preserve's 48 exotic animals that included lions, tigers, monkeys and bears. Lutz said at least one animal mauled another.

He said law enforcement officials have received calls from civilians about seeing the exotics roaming but "there were no confirmed sightings from law enforcement."

He said several large cats were found about 400-500 yards from the reserve in several directions.

Lutz said one individual tried to steal one of the animals Tuesday night, but officials recovered the animal and have taken the person into custody.

Flashing signs along the highway near the preserve warned drivers of the escaped animals. Schools in the area were closed Wednesday morning and residents were advised to stay indoors.

Thompson recently was released from prison after serving a year on a federal weapons conviction. Lutz said he had a permit for the animals he kept and the operation was legal.

Media reports indicate some animals were found on the property. Police were seeking advice from the Columbus Zoo on dealing with the remaining animals.

Source: UPI