Conservationists are outraged that Ohio sheriff's deputies shot and killed nearly 50 wild animals — including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions — set free by the owner of a private zoo in Zanesville, who then killed himself.
(GlobalPost reports: Ohio: Exotic animals on the loose in Zanesville)
The deputies, following shoot-to-kill orders, some of them armed only with handguns, conducted what the Associated Press described as a big-game hunt across the state on Wednesday, shooting 49 animals and saving only six before experts with tranquilizer guns arrived.
Only one wild animal — a monkey — was thought to be still on the loose somewhere on the 73-acre (29-hectare) Muskingum County Animal Farm late Wednesday, if it hadn't already been eaten by a big cat.
Of the animals let loose by Terry Thompson, 62, in what the AP speculates was an act of spite against neighbors and police before he committed suicide, three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys reportedly survived and were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo.
Police officers reportedly had no choice but to exterminate the animals to ensure the safety of locals and themselves.
Jack Hanna, former director of the Columbus Zoo, defended the sheriff's decision to kill the animals, while at the same time lamenting the loss of the Bengal tigers — as only about 1,400 of the cats are estimated to exist.
"When I heard 18, I was still in disbelief," he reportedly said. "The most magnificent creature in the entire world, the tiger is."
However, Born Free USA spokesman Adam Roberts has demanded action over non-existent U.S. wildlife ownership laws, telling Agence France Presse that:
"Quite frankly, nobody should have these animals in the first place so we need to take steps to change laws to make that a reality. These animals belong in accredited facilities with people who can handle them appropriately."
Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin are among the U.S. states that lack wildlife ownership laws.
"All eight states that don't have regulations should immediately have an executive order by the governor banning the keeping or sale of these animals," Roberts told AFP. "Stop people acquiring these animals full stop."
Meanwhile, it's been claimed that Thompson once supplied a lion cub for a photo shoot with supermodel Heidi Klum. Larry Hostetler, the executive director of the Animal Shelter Society of Muskingum County, told the AP:
"I wrote a letter to Heidi Klum's people. I strongly voiced my opinion that if they're going to hire animals for entertainment, they might want to check handlers' backgrounds — that Terry Thompson had been convicted of animal cruelty. Of course, I never heard anything back."