After a harrowing night and day spent hunting escaped bears, lions, tigers and other dangerous animals, authorities in Muskingum County, Ohio, believe they have killed, captured or otherwise accounted for 56 animals that were freed Tuesday from a private reserve by a man who it's believed then killed himself.
The last animal thought to have been on the loose, a monkey, was likely killed and eaten by one of the big cats, local Sheriff Matt Lutz told reporters last evening, local NBC4i News reports.
As we reported late Wednesday, deputies shot and killed 49 animals. Six — a grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys — were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
There's no word yet on why the farm's owner, Terry Thompson, apparently let the animals out and then shot himself.
"We don't know why Terry did this," Lutz said Wednesday, according to the local Zanesville Times Recorder.
The sheriff added that his deputies are upset about having to kill so many of the animals, but believe they did what they had to do.
"Our first concern is public safety," Lutz said, the Times Recorder reports. "My officers took absolutely no pleasure in shooting the animals. They have to go home to their wives and children and explain why they shot a Bengal tiger or a bear."
Deputy Jonathan Merry told the newspaper that at one point, a black bear came at him. "I got out of my car, and it instantly came charging at me," Merry said. "I shot it when it was about seven feet away from me."
"It was scary out there in the dark knowing those animals were roaming around," Deputy Todd Kanavel told the Times Recorder. "But what's scarier is the thought that one of those big cats or bears could get hold of a child. We're all upset about this. It's not a happy situation at all."
The sheriff's decision to have his deputies shoot to kill, he said at news conferences Wednesday, was based on his conclusion that there was no alternative — deputies do not carry tranquilizers, aren't trained to subdue animals with them and were faced with the prospect of dozens of dangerous animals getting into areas where people live.
The Washington Post writes this morning that:
"Experts and animal rights groups said the scary scene in Ohio was a direct consequence of the wide availability of exotic animals, many of which are now bred in the United States.
" 'You can find absolutely any animal on the planet for sale in the U.S.," said Bryan Christy, author of the 2009 book The Lizard King, an exposéof wildlife trafficking. 'People who keep these large carnivores, it's the same thing as keeping a loaded gun. That we allow people to keep bears and lions and tigers on their property is outrageous.' "
The Columbus Dispatch says that Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) "and his aides spent much of yesterday explaining why he allowed an executive order to lapse that could have forced Terry W. Thompson to give up his private menagerie. ... 'This is unbelievable that this even existed,' [Kasich said], 'and what's hard for me to understand is why Ohio over time didn't deal with this, but we'll deal with it now.' "