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Ohio police hunt dangerous animals on loose from preserve

October 19, 2011 |  6:45 am

Ohio police are hunting dangerous animals on the loose from a preserve

Wild bears and other beasts from an exotic-animal farm were still roaming free in a rural area of eastern Ohio on Wednesday morning, and people were being told to stay indoors, according to news reports.

Armed officers have already killed 31 of 48 animals that escaped from the wild-animal preserve near Zanesville, Ohio, and were hunting for the others, officials said. Classes were canceled in four area school districts, 10TV News reported.

During a Tuesday night news conference, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz advised area residents to stay indoors, and has since continued to send them updates via Twitter. Signs on the local roads warned "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle."

PHOTOS: Exotic animals on the loose

"These are wild animals that you would see on TV, in Africa," Lutz said at the news conference.

He described the animals as "mature, very big, aggressive," but said a caretaker told authorities the creatures had been fed as recently as Monday. The preserve had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears.

Authorities said they were gunning for the most dangerous of the animals still on the loose -- big bears, wild cats and wolves. In the meantime, the staff of the Columbus Zoo and veterinarians were on the scene in hopes of tranquilizing the animals and returning them to safety. Jack Hanna, a former Columbus Zoo director, drove overnight to Zanesville from Pennsylvania to assist.

"It's a terrible situation, there's no doubt about that," Hanna, also a syndicated animal-show host, told 10TV News. "The loss of any animal's life is tragic. Of course, the loss of a human life would be even more tragic."

He said the most aggressive of the animals would become only more dangerous the longer they were on the loose: "Obviously, as the days go on, hours go on, the [animals] are going to have to have food."

The sheriff told reporters that, starting late Tuesday afternoon, his office had been receiving phone calls that wild animals had been spotted on a road under Interstate 70 near Zanesville, which is 55 miles east of Columbus.

Officers with assault rifles rushed to the Muskingum County Animal Farm and found owner Terry Thompson dead, and the doors to the animal cages left open. Lutz declined to say how Thompson had died but said several aggressive animals were near his body when deputies arrived and had to be shot.

About 50 law enforcement officers from different agencies were patrolling the 40-acre farm Tuesday night on the lookout for animals hiding under trees.

Danielle White, who lives on the property adjacent to the farm, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Thompson had been in legal trouble, and police confirmed that he had recently been released from jail.

"He was in hot water because of the animals, because of permits, and [the animals] escaping all the time," White told the Plain Dealer. A few weeks ago, White said, she spotted camels grazing on the side of a freeway.

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Photo: A lion killed by authorities lays by the fence of the wild-animal preserve near Zanesville, Ohio, Tuesday. Credit: Heather Ellers and Dustin Burton / Associated Press

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