Several exotic and possibly dangerous animals escaped from a wild animal park in Zanesville, OH on Tuesday. The owner of the park, Terry Thompson, was discovered dead on Monday, and though authorities cannot identify the cause of death, they speculate that it was a suicide. All of the cages in the park, which contained lions, bears, wolves, leopards, tigers, and other potentially dangerous creatures were found open, and county sherriff Matt Lutz says that it was “very possible” that Thompson intentionally released the animals before his death.
Unfortunately, the local sherriff’s department has spent most of the past 48 hours locating and killing the escaped animals. Officials from the nearby Columbus Zoo also rushed to Zanesville to possibly tranquilize the beasts, but with schools and many rural homes in the area, the threat was deemed to great and authorities chose to put down dangerous animals on sight. In an interview with NBC, Lutz said, “Once daybreak hits here, we’re going back in to get an accountability of how many animals have been put down, how many animals are still penned up.”
According to the AP, “Ohio has some of the nation’s weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.” The city had had trouble with Thompson previous to this week’s mass exodus of exotic animals, ranging from instances of an escaped lion in 2006 to inadequate permits for his many strange pets. The preserve, which by all accounts was mismanaged, was often a source of concern for neighbors and townspeople. In light of this most recent tragedy, the Humane Society of America has called on the state of Ohio to impose stricter limits on the ownership of exotic pets.