The hunt for dozens of exotic animals that escaped from a private preserve and put an Ohio town on lockdown has been called off after officials said they are confident that the final missing monkey was eaten by another escaped animal.
A total of 49 wild animals were gunned down by police with pistols and high-powered rifles after escaping from a private preserve in Zanesville, Ohio Tuesday. The animals were moving into nearby neighborhoods, forcing residents of the town of 25,000 to stay indoors.
The county sheriff said Wednesday that the final missing animal, a monkey that may have had a herpes virus, had likely been killed and eaten by one of the escaped cats.
“We still are considering the monkey unaccounted for. There is a possibility it would be loose, however we’ve had no reports from the public of see anything,” Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz told “Good Morning America” Thursday.
“Considering this, it’s a high probability that it was killed by one of the big cats. We had another that was killed by one of the cats, and this other monkey was in the same area,” Lutz said.
The director of the Columbus Zoo recommended that the escaped monkey be shot and killed on sight because it could carry Herpes B, according to the sheriff.
The 49 animals that were slaughtered between Tuesday and Wednesday included 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, a pair of grizzlies, three mountain lions, two wolves and a baboon. The dead animals will be buried on the preserve, officials said.
The six surviving animals are currently at the Columbus Zoo where they are getting around the clock care.
The animals escaped from the 73-acre preserve owned by Terry Thompson, who had killed himself, according to Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz.
“We feel that Mr. Thompson died from a self-inflicted wound. We also feel he had released these animals at some point. Not only were the gates open but some of the pens were open,” Lutz said.
“These killings were senseless. For our guys to have to do this — it was nonsense, it was crazy … there were some very close calls,” the sheriff said, adding that at times it was “almost hand to hand” combat with the animals. “These are 300 pound Bengal tigers that we had to put down.”
Fred Polk was a neighbor of Thompson and the preserve, and watched in disbelief as the animals climbed over his fence around 5 p.m. Tuesday night.
“One of the bears charged the deputy and the deputy shot it. After that one of the lions jumped the fence come down here and the deputy shot it in my front yard,” Polk said.
Deputy Jonathan Merry was the second officer on the scene.
“The black bear turned in my direction and ran directly towards me,” Merry told ABC News. “I fortunately was able to pull my duty pistol, fired one shot, killing the animal instantly the black bear fell approximately fell seven feet in front of me.”
Thompson was an avid collector of exotic animals and even in 2008 was part of a photo shoot in New York where he was seen handling a lion club with model Heidi Klum.
“He’d kill somebody before he killed an animal, that was the type of person he was,” Polk said. “That’s exactly what he was, he always loved animals.”
Thompson, who was 61, had just been released from serving a year in prison on an illegal firearms conviction, and according to investigators he has been cited in the past for animal abuse and neglect.
His wife had apparently left him a few months ago. Late Wednesday, Marian Thompson refused to answer questions from reporters, though she did cooperate with police to account for the animals. According to authorities she begged them not to take away those that remained.
Wildlife expert and former director of the Columbus Zoo Jack Hanna told ABC News that the tragedy in Zanesville is the worst that he has seen in 45 years.
“I’m sorry to say, but what the sheriff did had to be done,” Hanna said. “Otherwise, we would have had carnage out here in Zanesville, Ohio.”