Fifty-six exotic animals were set loose from a farm in Ohio on October 18, after owner Terry Thompson opened their cages and killed himself.

As nightfall approached on Tuesday evening, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz gave the green light to kill the 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,” Lutz said, adding, “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.”

Deputies on site were not equipped with tranquilizer guns. Jack Hanna, the Columbus Zoo’s director, arrived Tuesday afternoon with tranquilizer guns and a group of trained specialists. The tranquilizers proved little help after a tiger turned on a veterinarian trying to tranquilize it.

Schools in the area were closed on Wednesday and residents were urged to stay indoors. By Thursday afternoon all animals had been accounted for. Those killed included two wolves, six black bears, two grizzly bears, nine male lions, eight lionesses, one baboon, three mountain lions, and eighteen Bengal tigers. Only a grizzly bear, two monkeys, and three leopards were taken alive to the Columbus Zoo.

Thompson was just released from prison on September 30 for possession of illegal firearms, including five fully automatic ones. In 2005, he was also convicted of cruelty to animals and animals at large.

The Humane Society is suggesting that Ohio lawmakers immediately issue an emergency rule to crack down on the ownership of exotic animals. A previous law expired this past April, enabling Thompson to own his animals legally. On Friday, October 21, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed an executive order which will work with existing laws to strengthen the regulations on the ownership of exotic animals.

Currently officials do not have the authority to track down exotic animals in Ohio, so the framework of the law needs to be changed. Changes are expected to be in place by the end of November.


  1. I really think it’s a shame they didn’t try to tranquilize these animals first, especially the rare and endangered Bengals. I’m not aware of anyone being in imminent danger- I’m sure animal interest groups across the country would have had people on planes immediately to assist in recovery, and it wouldn’t have been too hard to keep a sniper assigned to every animal in case there WERE a threat of imminent loss of life until compassionate help could arrive.

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