HO, Associated Press
ZANESVILLE, Ohio — Amid expressions of horror and revulsion at the killing of dozens of wild animals in Ohio — and photographs of their bloody carcasses — animal rights advocates agreed there was little local authorities could have done to save the dangerous creatures once they began roaming the countryside after their owner released them before taking his own life.
Sheriff's deputies shot 48 animals — including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions — after Terry Thompson, owner of the private Muskingum County Animal Farm near Zanesville, threw their cages open Tuesday and then committed suicide.
Thompson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and also had a bite wound on the head that appeared to have come from a large cat, such as a Bengal tiger, county Sheriff Matt Lutz said Thursday morning.
It appeared the bite occurred quickly after Thompson shot himself and that his body had been dragged a short distance, Lutz said.
"What a tragedy," said veterinarian Barb Wolfe, of The Wilds animal preserve sponsored by the Columbus Zoo. "We knew that ... there were so many dangerous animals at this place that eventually something bad would happen, but I don't think anybody really knew it would be this bad."
The sheriff would not speculate why Thompson took his own life. "We don't know what he was thinking," said Lutz, who added that finding out the reasons why wasn't the focus on his investigation.
Neighbors made it clear that Thompson loved the animals and would not have wanted them hurt.
"He liked animals more than he did people. He really did," said Fred Polk, whose farm is within sight of Thompson's home.
As the hunt winded down on Wednesday, a photo showing the remains of tigers, bears and lions lined up and scattered in an open field went viral provoking visceral reactions among viewers, some of whom expressed their anger and sadness on social networking sites.
Some local townspeople also were saddened by the deaths. At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser said: "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals."
Authorities said the slain animals would be buried on Thompson's farm.
Will Travers, chief executive of the California-based Born Free USA animal welfare and wildlife conservation organization, said police had no choice but to take the action they did.
"It's a tragedy for these particular animals, for no fault of their own they've been shot, and I can see how difficult that decision was for the police," he said.
The sheriff said he spoke with Thompson's wife and that she was distraught over the loss of her husband and the animals.
"You have to understand these animals were like kids to her," Lutz said. "She probably spent more time with these animals than some parents do spend with their kids."
Jack Hanna, TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo, also defended the sheriff's decision to kill the animals, calling deaths of the endangered Bengal tigers especially tragic.
The animals destroyed also included six black bears, two grizzlies, a baboon, a wolf and three mountain lions. "It's like Noah's Ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," Hanna said.
Six — three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys — were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo. "We are happy to report they all seem to be doing very well," zoo spokeswoman Patti Peters said in a statement Thursday.
A wolf was later found dead, leaving a monkey as the only animal possibly still unaccounted for in the mostly rural community of farms, widely spaced homes and wooded areas about 55 miles east of Columbus.
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