UPDATE 12/20/12 @ 12:05 p.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A federal judge has upheld Ohio's new restrictions on exotic animals after several owners sued the state over the law.
The judge in Columbus ruled Thursday the owners failed to prove constitutional rights were violated.
Seven owners had claimed the law forces them to join private associations with which they disagree and possibly give up their animals without compensation. They also challenged a requirement that animals be implanted with a microchip, which would allow the creatures to be identified if they get lost or escape.
Ohio officials have defended the law as a common sense measure to address the growing public safety problem of private ownership of exotic animals.
State lawmakers passed the tougher restrictions after a suicidal owner released dozens of creatures from his farm in Zanesville last year.
Attorney Robert Owens said Monday the state has agreed not to enforce certain provisions of the law until there's a hearing on the lawsuit. For instance, Ohio officials wouldn't refer owners for prosecution if they don't register their animals.
Under the law, owners faced a Monday deadline to register their creatures.
Four owners filed a federal lawsuit on Friday against the state's agriculture department and its director. They claim the law threatens their First Amendment and property rights.
Owens said there's no court order yet because the agreement is still being reviewed. A state spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit and the agreement.
Patty Peters of the Columbus zoo says the facility's staff spoke Tuesday afternoon to Marian Thompson's veterinarian to begin coordinating the animals' transfer.
Two leopards, two primates and a bear have been held at the zoo since October under a state-issued quarantine order. That quarantine was lifted Monday.
Peters says the transfer would not happen Wednesday, and no date has been set.
She says one of the first hurdles is deciding what crates to use. Thompson's crates would have to meet federal guidelines. If the animals were transported in the zoo's steel crates, Thompson would need a forklift.
The Ohio Agriculture Department announced the decision Monday at an agency hearing in which they were to defend state's authority to quarantine the animals on suspicion of infectious diseases.
It's unclear when the animals would be released to Marian Thompson.
Ohio's agriculture director was expected to lift the quarantine later Monday.
Thompson's husband released dozens of exotic animals from their Zanesville farm Oct. 18 before killing himself.
Authorities were forced to shoot 48 creatures. Three leopards, two primates and a bear survived and have been held at the Columbus zoo. One leopard later had to be euthanized.
The Senate's agriculture panel agreed to revisions Tuesday that include easing rules for snake ownership and exempting certain service monkeys who help the disabled. The changes would exempt animals from a required microchip implantation if it would endanger their health.
The panel has scheduled a possible vote on the measure Tuesday, though it could come Wednesday. It would ban new ownership of exotic animals while allowing current owners to keep their pets by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014 and meeting other strict conditions.
The measure follows the October release of dozens of exotic animals by their suicidal owner from Zanesville, forcing authorities to kill 48 animals.
The Columbus zoo began caring for three leopards, two primates and a bear after their suicidal owner released dozens of animals that had to be killed by authorities near Zanesville. One leopard was euthanized after it was struck by a door lowering between two enclosures.
The state had directed the animals be held at the zoo on suspicion of potential dangerous infectious diseases. The owner's widow has sought to appeal the quarantine order.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture on Monday said the state veterinarian received and reviewed the test results, and the animals will remain under quarantine at the zoo while observation continues for signs of rabies.
The Columbus zoo began caring for three leopards, two primates and a bear after their suicidal owner released dozens of animals that had to be killed by authorities near Zanesville. One leopard was euthanized after it was struck by a door lowering between two enclosures.
A spokeswoman for the agriculture department says the hearing was delayed at the request of Marian Thompson, the owner's window, who had demanded the appeal hearing.
An attorney for the widow declined to comment.
Thompson has questioned whether the state had the authority to quarantine the animals on the suspicion of potential dangerous infectious diseases.
Boa constrictors were removed from the suggested list of restricted species as a committee considered the measure Tuesday. Other changes would let animal owners use surety bonds instead of liability insurance and exempt animals from a required microchip implantation if it would endanger their health.
The measure would ban new ownership of exotic animals, allowing current owners to keep their pets by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014 and meeting other conditions.
The hearing room was packed Tuesday as lawmakers heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including a woman son was fatally mauled by a bear in northeast Ohio.
The Columbus zoo began caring for three leopards, two primates and a bear after their suicidal owner released dozens of animals that had to be killed by authorities near Zanesville. One leopard was euthanized after being struck by a door lowering between two enclosures.
Under a quarantine order, the animals can't be released unless they're free of dangerous diseases.
Officials had concerns about whether the animals were strong enough to survive being anesthetized for testing. The state veterinarian observed the animals Tuesday and determined they were.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture says they'll undergo physical exams, X-rays and blood testing.
A message was left Wednesday for the owner's lawyer.
Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson of Zanesville sent a letter Friday afternoon to state lawmakers, asking them to sign on to his proposal. He plans to introduce the bill Tuesday, and hearings are planned next week.
Zoo, circuses and research facilities would be exempt from the ban.
Efforts to strengthen the state's law took on new urgency in October when authorities were forced to kill 48 wild animals -- including endangered Bengal tigers -- after their owner freed them from his Zanesville farm and then committed suicide.
The report released to the Associated Press indicates owner Terry Thompson was troubled over caring for his animals and about being confined to his property after a year in prison on a gun conviction. He also was upset that his wife was away.
The report includes Thompson's previously reported statement to a caretaker the day before the animals were set loose that he "had a plan."
Authorities say Thompson fatally shot himself after releasing the animals at his farm in eastern Ohio on Oct. 18.
Police were forced to kill 48 animals, including lions and Bengal tigers.
The lion was among dozens of animals killed by police outside Zanesville last fall after their owner released them and committed suicide.
Muskingum County assistant prosecutor Maria Kalis said Thursday the case involved youthful hijinks and poor decision-making by men ranging in age from 19 to 21. She says authorities don't want the men's futures to be affected by bad decisions on one night.
The men were charged with theft. A message left with their attorney hasn't been returned.
The prosecutor doesn't know the status of a 17-year-old boy charged in the case.
The Columbus Zoo has cared for the animals since Terry Thompson released them at his farm near Zanesville in October and set off a hunt by authorities who fatally shot four dozen animals, including rare Bengal tigers, lions and bears.
The state ordered that the surviving animals be kept under quarantine at least until they can be tested for disease. State Department of Agriculture officials say the animals have been eating well and their health has appeared to improve so the tentative date was set to begin testing.
Ohio state Sen. Troy Balderson says the two weeks left in the 2011 legislative calendar aren't enough to craft a comprehensive bill.
Lawmakers were waiting on a report from Gov. John Kasich's exotic animal task force start drafting a bill. They released the report Wednesday.
Kasich called for an expedited report after sheriff's deputies had to kill 48 animals released near Zanesville by owner Terry Thompson before he killed himself.
The report suggests the ban start in 2014. Owners would have to meet new temporary safety standards before then and register their animals with the state.
Zoo, circuses and research facilities would be exempt.
The lion was among 48 loose wild animals killed by sheriff's deputies in eastern Ohio's Muskingum County last month after their owner opened the cages and then killed himself.
Multiple media outlets report a Jan. 6 trial has been scheduled for the four men. Each is charged with a misdemeanor count of theft and faces up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.
A 17-year-old boy taken into custody with them has been charged in juvenile court.
Prosecutors haven't said what they believed the group planned to do with the dead lion.
Marian Thompson's lawyer requested a hearing in a letter to the Ohio Department of Agriculture this week. The lawyer did not cite a specific reason.
A department spokeswoman says lawyers for Thompson and the state will arrange a date to present their arguments to a hearing officer. The officer would make a determination to be reviewed by the head of the department.
The Columbus zoo has cared for three leopards, two primates and a young grizzly bear since Terry Thompson released animals at his farm near Zanesville last month. The state ordered the animals be kept under quarantine.
Gov. John Kasich spoke of the ideas last month to a working group studying ways to change the state's laws on exotic animals. The meeting minutes were released late last week.
The group sped up its work on recommendations after dozens of exotic animals were released last month by their private owner, who then killed himself, leaving deputies to put down many of the beasts.
Kasich told the group during their Oct. 31 meeting that no one should own wild animals such as bears or primates.
Kasich also called for a ban on auctions where exotic wild animals are sold, and suggested that fees be significant.
The reports released Friday describe a chaotic scene around the private compound in eastern Ohio.
Two deputies shot a pair of lions running near a fence along an interstate highway. A deputy says one lion got up and charged at him before he killed it.
Sheriff's deputies were forced to kill 48 wild animals, including bears, lions and endangered Bengal tigers, after their owner freed them late in the afternoon on Oct. 18 and then committed suicide.
Deputies say they couldn't get near the man at first because a tiger was standing over his body.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz told a working group studying Ohio's exotic animals laws that the cost was for his department only.
The figure is contained in minutes of the group's Oct. 24 meeting reviewed by The Associated Press after they were published Wednesday.
Sheriff's deputies were forced to kill 48 wild animals, including bears, lions and endangered Bengal tigers, after their owner freed them late in the afternoon of Oct. 18, then committed suicide.
The working group is proposing recommendations that would likely ban dangerous animals and allow existing owners to keep such wildlife but require new permit rules for them.
Gov. John Kasich made a conference call to members of the panel on Monday. Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Laura Jones says the governor wanted to encourage them to stay on track and wrap up quickly.
Kasich last month ordered a temporary crackdown on dangerous wild animals in private hands after a suicidal owner released dozens of exotic beasts. Police killed 48 animals, including 18 endangered Bengal tigers.
The study committee has until the end of November to draft permanent legislation. The panel continued its discussions during a lengthy private meeting Monday at the Columbus Zoo.
Dr. Tony Forshey said Monday the animals must be anesthetized to have blood drawn. He's worried they're too weak to survive the procedure.
The Columbus Zoo is caring for three leopards, two monkeys and a young grizzly bear taken from a Zanesville home two weeks ago after owner Terry Thompson freed dozens of animals, then shot himself.
Police were forced to kill 48 animals, including lions, bears and 18 endangered Bengal tigers.
An email seeking comment was sent Monday to an attorney for the owner's widow, Marian Thompson, who had sought to reclaim the animals. Both she and her attorney have repeatedly declined comment.
That's instead of transferring them from a zoo to a woman whose suicidal husband freed them.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium says it was notified that Marian Thompson would pick up the animals Thursday afternoon. She planned to reclaim three leopards, two primates and a young grizzly bear that have been cared for by the zoo since last week.
The zoo says it took the surviving animals from the farm in Zanesville with Thompson's permission but has no legal rights to them.
Terry Thompson mysteriously freed the animals and dozens of others last week before killing himself. Authorities had to hunt down and kill many of them.
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium says it was notified that Marian Thompson will pick up the animals Thursday afternoon.
The zoo says it took the six surviving animals last week from a farm in Zanesville with Thompson's permission but has no legal rights to them. A spokeswoman says the zoo has contacted state and federal agencies in search of a way to keep the animals in its care and isn't giving up yet.
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium says it took the six surviving animals with Marian Thompson's permission but has no legal rights to the animals. It says her lawyers notified the zoo that she will reclaim the beasts, possibly as early as Thursday.
A spokeswoman says the zoo has contacted state and federal agencies in search of a way to keep the animals.
Police shot and killed four dozen more animals that escaped from the eastern Ohio farm near Zanesville last week, including rare Bengal tigers, lions and bears.
About a dozen supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals stood outside the Statehouse on Wednesday with signs bearing slogans such as "Wild animals are not pets."
The gathering was spurred by the shooting by authorities of 48 animals released by a farm owner last week before he committed suicide. Six other animals were captured and taken to a zoo.
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets. Gov. John Kasich has ordered temporary measures regarding private ownership of such animals while tougher laws are drafted.
Hanna, the former Columbus Zoo director, said he told a working committee during its closed-door meeting on Monday that Ohio must make sure that what just happened never happens again. Police killed dozens of the released animals while schools closed and motorists were warned to stay in their vehicles.
Hanna says his message was: "No more lions and tigers and bears as pets."
On Friday, Gov. John Kasich ordered a temporary crackdown on private ownership of exotic wild animals. The study committee has until Nov. 30 to draft permanent legislation, with one more meeting scheduled next week.
Kasich said Tuesday that Hanna has told him there may need to be exceptions to a complete ban.
"What Jack Hanna's told me is you may have some breeders, you may have some circumstances where it's legitimate for somebody to have it, but they clearly have to be qualified, they have to be certified," Kasich told reporters after a public appearance.
The Republican governor said he has difficulty comprehending exotic animal ownership.
"I have a really hard time understanding why somebody ought to have a grizzly bear on their private compound, or lions or Bengal tigers. I just don't get it, but it's a complicated issue," he said.
Tattoo artist Billy White says he'll donate the proceeds from tattoos of tigers and other exotic animals that customers bought through Saturday at his shop in Zanesville, the city near Terry Thompson's farm.
Multiple media outlets report White raised more than $1,000 for the six animals that were captured and are now being cared for at the Columbus Zoo. Police shot to death 48 others, including 18 rare Bengal tigers, 17 lions and eight bears.
White says he wanted to make something positive out of the tragedy.
No one knows for sure why the 62-year-old Thompson did what he did.
Kasich also announced Friday that a northeast Ohio auction house long known as a source for animals like bear and tiger cubs is continuing a self-imposed ban.
The moves come after dozens of lions, bears and tigers were shot to death in Zanesville after their owner freed them Tuesday, then killed himself.
Kasich says the state will work with health departments and humane societies to better enforce existing laws, try to temporarily halt other auction sales and shut down unlicensed auctions.
Humane Society of the United States Executive Director Wayne Pacelle says the trade in such animals needs to be stopped altogether.
The governor made the decision Friday, a few days after an owner in Ohio set dozens free this week and committed suicide.
Kasich had let an order cracking down on the ownership of exotic animals expire this spring, arguing it lacked legal authority.
Activists have complained that Ohio has some of the nation's laxest regulations on exotic pets.
Police were forced to shoot most of the animals freed this week to ensure public safety. They included tigers, bears and lions.
Court records show that Terry Thompson and his wife had money problems dating to the 1990s but that their debt escalated in recent years. They owed at least $68,000 in unpaid income and property taxes.
Thompson also just got out of prison last month after spending a year behind bars for possessing unregistered guns.
Investigators have refused to speculate about what pushed him to unleash more than 50 animals on Tuesday before killing himself. Deputies shot and killed dozens of the escaped animals.
Neighbors say they are shocked that Thompson did anything that could have harmed his beloved animals.
Sheriff's deputies in Ohio shot 48 animals -- including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions -- after their owner Terry Thompson let them out of their cages before committing suicide Tuesday.
In Ohio and West Virginia, state law regulates the possession of native animals like bears but says nothing about exotic animals.
West Virginia Department of Natural Resources assistant chief Paul Johansen tells the Associated Press residents would not need a permit to have exotic pets.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulates exotic animals that are put on public display, but not those kept as pets.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said at a news conference Thursday that the autopsy showed farm owner Terry Thompson had a bite wound on the head that appeared to have come from a large cat, such as a Bengal tiger.
Lutz says it appears the bite occurred quickly after Thompson shot himself.
Authorities say Thompson released his more than 50 animals before killing himself on Tuesday. Dozens of escaped tigers, lions and other beasts were shot by officers.
State Representative Debbie Phillips (D-Athens) proposed the legislation Thursday. The proposal come sin response to the recent events in Muskingum County in which an owner apparently released nearly 50 exotic animals into the area near his home.
“Although an owner’s intentions to keep exotic animals may be good, unfortunately, most private citizens do not have the proper training or resources to take care of wild animals. Their properties often are not equipped to safely contain wild animals, which poses a danger to themselves as well as other community members,” said Rep. Phillips.
The bill, which includes an emergency clause, closely mirrors the expired executive order issued by former Governor Strickland in January of this year. The bill permits existing owners with federal licenses to keep their animals but requires that they must register them with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife. Owners must also embed microchips in the animals so they can be tracked if there is an escape from the owner’s property.
“It is unfortunate that Governor Kasich chose to let this common sense provision expire earlier this year. Had he chosen to continue these regulations, we may not have seen today’s tragic events unfold,” said Rep. Phillips.
Ohio is one of only a few states with little or no regulation over the private ownership of wild animals, and has one of the highest incidences of injuries and deaths caused by exotic animals.
Some four dozen animals were killed by police after authorities say the owner opened cages at the farm near Zanesville on Tuesday and then killed himself.
The Columbus Zoo says it's now caring for a young grizzly bear, two monkeys and three leopards. The zoo said in a statement Thursday that the rescued animals seem to be doing very well.
The animals that were killed include 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions.
One monkey from the farm is still unaccounted for. The county sheriff has said in interviews that it's very possible the monkey was eaten by one of the big cats.
Late Tuesday and earlier Wednesday, dozens of wild animals were on the run after they escaped from an exotic animal farm in Zanesville. Their owner Terry Thompson set them free before shooting himself to death, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said.
Some of the animals on the farm included: 18 tigers, 17 mountain lions and eight bears. Out of about 56 animals, 48 were put down. Several others were taken to the Columbus Zoo.
The exotic animal farm is just a couple miles outside of Zanesville, which has a population of about 25,000. Of course, wild animals and people simply don't mix, and it was a race against the clock to get the animals before they got the people.
“This was a very, very bad situation," Lutz said. "To keep that number restricted to this property is phenomenal."
When officers arrived to the exotic animal farm, they found an animal kingdom gone wild.
"I had deputies who had to shoot animals with their side arms at close range," Lutz said. "That's how volatile this situation was. These are not your average house cats or dogs. We're talking about 300-pound (Bengal tigers)."
Renowned animal expert Jack Hanna said, "It was like Noah's Ark exploded here."
Sadly, it was a gruesome roundup of tigers, leopards, lions, wolves, bears and monkeys.
Hanna, who is director of the Columbus Zoo, was on the scene to assist. He says the sheriff did the right thing for public safety in killing the animals.
"Water buffalo, I can tell you, they're powerful," Hanna said.
Thompson was found laying dead in the driveway -- police say from suicide. But, this wasn't the first time police have responded to the farm.
"We've gotten 34 to 35 calls since April 5 that we've ran on our computer about problems at Mr. Thompson's from animals running at large to them not being treated properly," Lutz said. "So, this has been a huge problem for us for a lot of years."
Meanwhile, the surrounding community spent Wednesday on lockdown. Schools closed, and warning signs urged people to stay inside.
Now, law enforcement officers start to breathe a sigh of relief with most of the animals accounted for. But, tense times remain while one monkey is still on the loose carrying a dangerous virus.
Known as the herpes B virus, it is carried by macaque monkeys. The virus doesn't affect monkeys, but is considered to be dangerous for people.
A bite wound is considered a very dangerous condition, and that's why Lutz is recommending not to approach the monkey. Call your local 911 center if you see it.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz says that included 18 Bengal tigers. Other animals killed near the preserve in eastern Ohio included 17 lions, eight bears and a wolf.
Lutz says the only remaining animals are a wolf and a monkey. Authorities say the monkey should be shot if caught because it could be carrying a disease.
Several schools closed to keep children out of harm's way. The sheriff says that he believes the danger to residents has passed and that schools can reopen.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said at a news conference Wednesday that investigators feel Terry Thompson died from a self-inflicted wound. Lutz says authorities are awaiting autopsy results on the cause of death.
The sheriff says it appears Thompson left the animals' gates open and even cut open their pens so they would get out. The animals included lions and bears.
Deputies found Thompson's body on Tuesday when they went to the farm on reports of wild animals running free.
Officials spent the night hunting down and shooting to death most of the nearly 50 animals.
Schools closed and motorists were warned to stay in their vehicles as officers with assault rifles hunted Wednesday for bears, big cats and other beasts that escaped from a wild-animal preserve after the owner was found dead and cages housing dozens of dangerous animals were left open.
Officers were under orders to shoot to kill because officials said it wasn't safe to tranquilize the animals in the dark.
Authorities were investigating whether Muskingum County Animal Farm owner Terry Thompson killed himself after freeing the animals, and officials spent the night hunting down and shooting to death nearly 30 of the 48 animals.
As officials warned that more animals still were on the loose, three school districts in the region and some private and special schools canceled classes as the remaining bears, big cats and other beasts from the Muskingum County Animal Farm were hunted down.
Flashing signs along area highways told motorists, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle."
The animals' cages had been opened and the farm's fences had been left unsecured, police said. It was "very possible" that Thompson left the cages open, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said.
Lutz told NBC's "Today" show that authorities were awaiting autopsy results on the farm owner. Lutz had said earlier that the death was not suspicious.
"Once daybreak hits here, we're going back in to get an accountability of how many animals have been put down, how many animals are still penned up," the sheriff told NBC.
The preserve in Zanesville, about 55 miles east of Columbus, had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears. Police said bears and wolves were among the escaped animals that were killed and there were multiple sightings of exotic animals along a nearby highway.
Lutz called the animals "mature, very big, aggressive" but said a caretaker told authorities the animals had been fed on Monday.
Tuesday night, more than 50 law enforcement officials - including sheriff's deputies, highway patrol officers, police officers and officers from the state Division of Wildlife - patrolled the 40-acre farm and the surrounding areas in cars and trucks, often in rainy downpours. Lutz said they were concerned about big cats and bears hiding in the dark and in trees.
Neighbor Danielle White, whose father's property abuts the animal preserve, said she didn't see loose animals this time but did in 2006, when a lion escaped.
"It's always been a fear of mine knowing (the preserve's owner) had all those animals," she said. "I have kids."
Lutz said his office started getting phone calls at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville on a road that runs under Interstate 70.
He said four deputies with assault rifles in a pickup truck went to the animal farm, where they found the owner Thompson dead and all the animal cage doors open.
He wouldn't say how Thompson died but said several aggressive animals were near his body when deputies arrived and had to be shot.
Thompson, who lived on the property, had orangutans and chimps in his home, but those were still in their cages, Lutz said.
The deputies, who saw many other animals standing outside their cages and others that had escaped past the fencing surrounding the property, began shooting them on sight.
Staffers from the Columbus Zoo went to the scene, hoping to tranquilize and capture the animals after daybreak Wednesday. The zoo's director emeritus, TV host Jack Hanna, said that was something that could not be done in the dark.
"You cannot tranquilize an animal like this, a bear or a leopard or a tiger (at nighttime)," Hanna told ABC's "Good Morning America on Wednesday. "If you do that, the animal gets very excited, it goes and hides, and then we have his (Lutz's) officer in danger of losing their life, and other people."
Lutz said his main concern was protecting the public in the rural area, where homes sit on large lots of sometimes 10 acres.
White, the preserve's neighbor, said Thompson had been in legal trouble, and police said he had gotten out of jail recently.
"He was in hot water because of the animals, because of permits, and (the animals) escaping all the time," White said. A few weeks ago, she said, she had to avoid some camels which were grazing on the side of a freeway.
At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser remembered Thompson as an interesting character who flew planes, raced boats and owned a custom motorcycle shop that also sold guns.
"He was pretty unique," Weiser said. "He had a different slant on things. I never knew him to hurt anybody, and he took good care of the animals."
Weiser said he regretted that the escaped animals had to be killed. "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals," he said.
Bailey Hartman, 20, a night manager at McDonald's, also said it saddened her that the animals were being shot. But, she said, "I was kind of scared coming in to work."
Hartman said Thompson's wife, who no longer lives with him, was her teacher in middle school and used to bring small animals such as a monkeys, snakes and owls to school. "It was a once-a-year type of thing, and everyone would always get excited," she recalled.
Thompson had permits to keep four black bears, said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The department licenses only native species, Jones said Wednesday.
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.
In the summer of 2010, an animal caretaker was killed by a bear at a property in Cleveland. The caretaker had opened the bear's cage at exotic-animal keeper Sam Mazzola's property for a routine feeding.
Though animal-welfare activists had wanted Mazzola charged with reckless homicide, the caretaker's death was ruled a workplace accident. The bear was later destroyed.
This summer, Mazzola was found dead on a water bed, wearing a mask and with his arms and legs restrained, at his home in Columbia Township, about 15 miles southwest of Cleveland.
It was unclear how many animals remained on the property when he died, but he had said in a bankruptcy filing in May 2010 that he owned four tigers, a lion, eight bears and 12 wolves. The U.S. Department of Agriculture had revoked his license to exhibit animals after animal-welfare activists campaigned for him to stop letting people wrestle with another one of his bears.
Mazzola had permits for nine bears for 2010, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said. The state requires permits for bears but doesn't regulate the ownership of nonnative animals, such as lions and tigers.
The Humane Society of the United States on Wednesday urged Ohio to immediately issue emergency restrictions on the sale and possession of dangerous wild animals. "
"How many incidents must we catalogue before the state takes action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals," Humane Society Wayne Pacelle said in a statement.
When asked on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday whether farm owner Terry Thompson may have taken his own life, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz would only say: "Anything's a possibility at this point." He said authorities are awaiting autopsy results.
Police have killed dozens of animals. Lutz says he believes up to 35 of the 48 loose bears, big cats and other beasts have been accounted for. He says daylight will allow for a more accurate count.
Deputies responding to the initial reports of wild animals found Thompson dead Tuesday.
Schools are closed in the region on Wednesday and flashing highway signs are telling motorists: "Caution exotic animals."
Muskingum County Sheriff Sheriff Matt Lutz says he now believes up to 35 of the 48 animals were accounted for. He says daylight will allow officers to get a more accurate count.
Deputies responding to the initial reports of loose bears, big cats and other beasts found the farm's owner dead on Tuesday.
Authorities aren't saying how he died but say his death wasn't suspicious.
Police said the farm's fences had been left unsecured and the animals' cages were open.
Deputies responding to the initial reports of loose bears, big cats and other beasts found the farm's owner dead on Tuesday. Authorities aren't saying how he died but say his death wasn't suspicious.
Three school districts and some private and special schools canceled Wednesday's classes in the region around the farm in Zanesville. Police said the farm's fences had been left unsecured and the animals' cages were open.
Close to 30 of the 48 animals were shot and killed on Tuesday.
The Humane Society of the United States says the episode shows Ohio needs restrictions on the possession of wild animals.
Some school districts were expected to cancel classes Wednesday as the remaining bears, big cats and other beasts from the Muskingum County Animal Farm were hunted down.
Police started getting phone calls at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville.
Four sheriff's deputies with assault rifles in a pickup truck went to the animal farm, where they found the owner dead and all the animal cage doors open. The preserve had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears.
There were 48 animals at the preserve in east-central Ohio and authorities say they killed up to 30 of them.
WBNS-TV in Columbus reports the body of owner Terry Thompson was found Tuesday outside his home on the farm property. Police say the fences had been left unsecured at the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville.
Police won't say what animals escaped but say the farm had lions, wolves, tigers, giraffes, camels and bears. They say bears and wolves have been shot and killed and there are multiple sightings of exotic animals along Interstate 70.
The Muskingum County Sheriff's Office tells Columbus television station NBC4 that they are actively searching for, "a gambit of wild and exotic animals."
Staffers from the Columbus Zoo are on the scene hoping to tranquilize and capture the animals.
Sheriff Matt Lutz says people should stay indoors and he might ask for local schools to close Wednesday.
Lutz confirmed the owner was found dead by deputies. He said deputies shot up to 25 animals on the way to the home to check on the owner.
The sheriff did not elaborate on how the owner died.
Officials said there could be up to 48 animals still on the loose and that deputies have been given the order, "shoot to kill."
"Public safety is the number one priority," Lutz said.
Lutz said the office has had issues with the owner in the past.
"This is a bad situation, its been a bad situation for a long time," he said.