All exotic animals killed, captured – or eaten; case not over
All but one of the exotic animals deliberately let loose from a backyard zoo in Ohio have been either killed or captured. And there's a good chance that the one animal unaccounted for -- a monkey -- was eaten by one of the big cats, officials say.
But the bizarre case of Terry W. Thompson, who claimed to love exotic animals but all but signed their death warrant when he threw open their cages Tuesday and then took his own life, is far from over. Law enforcement officers are grappling with the aftermath on several troubling fronts, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said in a news conference Thursday morning.
Among their goals:
- Determining the cause and circumstances of a bite wound on Thompson's head, a wound believed to have occurred within seconds of his suicide.
- Finding out who released a graphic photo of animal carcasses piled up outside the 73-acre Muskingum County Animal Farm in Ohio. "There was no employee of mine that had any authorization to release that photo," Lutz said.
- Protecting the farm property from people who have flooded the Sheriff's Department with requests for the carcasses, presumably to take them to a taxidermist to be stuffed and displayed. Authorities are also investigating reports that two people were nabbed trying to steal one of the carcasses; they say that anyone caught trying to unearth the animals from their mass grave at the farm will face swift punishment.
- Supervising the prospect of Thompson's wife trying to regain custody of the animals captured at the facility, including a grizzly bear, three leopards and two monkeys.
- Defending law enforcement's actions to the animal rights activists that have been calling and emailing the Sheriff's Department to complain that officers should have found a better way to handle the situation instead of the mass killing of so many animals.
- Dealing with the emotional fallout for officers who were thrust into duties they weren't trained to handle -- the forced execution of one animal after another. Then they had to explain it all to their children, whom Lutz said could face taunting and harassment at school.
And of course some questions might never be answered. Such as: Where did Thompson get the animals? Were they properly cared for, and, if so, how did he afford the enormous cost of feeding them and providing them with medical attention? If he cared so much about the animals, why did he intentionally place them in harm's way? And why did he take his own life?
"This is a terrible situation, very chaotic," Lutz said, adding: "Obviously, to take your own life, Mr. Thompson was not in the right state of mind."
But one thing is certain, Lutz said. The tragedy that has shaken the state will no doubt lead to stricter laws concerning exotic animals, something that animal right activists say has long been overdue for the state.
Lutz said he has spoken with the governor and been given assurances that changes will be made, perhaps by year's end. Lutz, for one, said he will make sure of it: "I'll do anything I have to do to make this never happen again."
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Photo: Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz talks to the media this week. Credit: Matt Sullivan / Reuters