ZANESVILLE, Ohio — More than three dozen wild animals were released or escaped from an animal sanctuary in Muskingum County yesterday.
As of 10 a.m. Oct. 19, there were three animals still unaccounted for: a mountain lion, a bear and a monkey.
Jack Hanna with the Columbus Zoo said the mountain lion is the one animal of most concern to public safety at this point.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matthew Lutz said the sheriff’s department started receiving calls about wild animals near roadways around 5:30 p.m.
The department went to the farm where the department knew the animals were housed. When they arrived, they found the owner, Terry Thompson, deceased from a self-inflicted wound. A suicide note has not been found.
Lutz said it appears Thompson released the animals at some point by opening the gates of their pens.
He added there were pens along the outside of the house on the property. In addition, monkeys and chimpanzees were inside the house in pens.
There were between 48-51 wild animals on the property, including camels, lions, mountain lions, Bengal tigers, leopards grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, monkeys and chimpanzees.
Lutz said when the sheriff’s deputies realized the animals were loose, they were forced to begin shooting them.
“These are not the average house cat. They are 300-pound Bengal tigers,” said Lutz.
Some escaped to Interstate 70 and were spotted by motorists.
As of this morning, one large wild cat from the sanctuary was hit by a motorist. The Ohio State Highway Patrol was handling the crash, according to Lutz.
The Muskingum County Sheriff’s Department is recovering the dead animals and taking a count to try to determine exactly how many wild animals were kept on the property.
Lutz said some sightings have also been reported in neighboring Licking County, but law enforcement have not spotted any animals there.
When asked whether or not the animal sanctuary has been a problem in the past, Lutz confirmed it has been, with the department receiving more than 30 calls about it in past few years.
“It’s been a huge problem for us for a lot of years,” said Lutz.
Hanna described the scene for reporters at a 10 a.m. news conference.
“It’s like Noah’s Ark wrecking here in Zanesville, Ohio,” said Hanna.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is also helping with the matter, along with the Emergency Management Agency and employees of The Wilds in that county.