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Exotic animals: Leopard seized from Ohio home zoo is euthanized

January 31, 2012 |  2:00 pm

A spotted leopard that survived a wildlife massacre at a ramshackle home zoo in Ohio has been euthanized after an accident at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, where it was being held in quarantine.

The leopard was being moved between two enclosures  about 11 a.m. Sunday when it was struck in the back of the neck by a heavy security door that was being lowered at the time. The change in enclosures appears to have been part of the zoo's normal cleaning and feeding routine.

"The leopard moved through the opening but then unexpectedly darted back as the door was being lowered, striking it on the neck," according to a statement released by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which was overseeing the quarantine.

PHOTOS: Exotic animals on the loose in Ohio

The exotic cat suffered a severe spinal cord injury and lost consciousness. Efforts were made to revive the creature, but when the extent of its injuries became clear, the animal was put down.

"Responding immediately, a Zoo veterinarian found the cat to be unresponsive and began chest compressions to get its heart beating," according to the state's account. "Upon examination it was determined that the animal had suffered an irreversible spinal cord injury, was unable to breathe on its own, and State Veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey, who had responded and was on-site to observe the animal, made the decision to euthanize the leopard."

The statement also suggested that previous neglect may have played a role in the fatal injury.

"Radiographs from before and after the animal's death indicated the leopard had congenitally defective malformed vertebrae in the neck which weakened its cervical spine and could have compounded the severity of the injury," the statement said. "The leopard also had old injuries that had not healed properly, including broken bones in its back and tail."

Results from the necropsy will take up to six weeks, officials said.

The male leopard was one of only six creatures that survived the Oct. 18 massacre at the Zanesville compound belonging to Terry Thompson.

Before he threw open the cages housing his 56 exotic animals, Thompson was experiencing marital and financial problems, many related to the enormous cost of trying to care for and feed the animals. He had also clashed repeatedly with law enforcement and animal control officials over the years.

But months later, authorities still cannot explain why Thompson freed the animals he claimed to have loved so much. In all, 48 animals were later killed; six (including the leopard) were captured; and two animals are believed to have been eaten by other animals.

After freeing the animals, Thompson turned a gun on himself, shooting himself in the head. Law enforcement officers responding to the scene at nightfall said they had no choice but to gun down most of the animals being held at the compound, including several lions and tigers.

The image of the exotic animals' carcasses lined up on the property triggered nationwide criticism. But the Muskingum County Sheriff's Office said deputies feared the animals would escape into the nearby wooded areas, making it nearly impossible to find them and putting the public at risk.

Authorities say they tried to use tranquilizer darts, but that they didn't have enough. In one case, they said, officers were charged by a tiger after they tried to tranquilize it. 

The zoo continues to care for the other five animals, including another spotted leopard, a black leopard, a brown bear and two macaques.

Columbus Zoo President Dale Schmidt called the weekend loss of the leopard an "incredible tragedy." "Our team's heartbroken," Schmidt said, according to the Associated Press.

The news service also reported that an attorney for Thompson's widow, who has been trying to regain custody of the remaining animals, had no comment.


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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch