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At the animal preserve: a mauled corpse and now a mass grave

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The owner of the Ohio wildlife preserve who authorities say set dozens of lions, tigers, bears and other animals free was bitten by one of his large cats, apparently after he fatally shot himself, officials said Thursday.

The head wound to the man, Terry Thompson, 62, was "consistent with a tiger bite," Sheriff Matt Lutz of Muskingum County said, referring to results from Thompson’s autopsy report.

Officials in Zanesville, where the wildlife preserve is located, said that Tuesday, Thompson cut open the wire cages of the exotic animals he kept on his 73-acre private preserve and left open a gate before killing himself in the driveway of his house.

Of the 56 animals that fled, 49 were hunted down and killed by sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers, and six others were tranquilized and taken to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The only animal unaccounted for, a monkey, has not been found and was most likely eaten by one of the large cats, officials said.

The dead animals were buried Wednesday in a mass grave on the preserve at the request of Thompson’s wife, Marian Thompson, officials said.

The killing of so many animals, including 18 Bengal tigers — an endangered species — prompted outrage from around the world, but Lutz has said that doing so was the only viable option to ensure that the public was protected.

"We understand there are people frustrated, disappointed and mad," Lutz said. "We are" too, he said.

The sheriff said it had not been decided what would happen to the six animals — three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys — under quarantine at the zoo. They belong to Marian Thompson, but officials are reluctant to return them to her until they are certain they will be cared for adequately.

Various species of primates, found alive in cages inside the Thompson house, were also spared and will probably be returned to Marian Thompson.

Lutz described Marian Thompson on Thursday as being "very distraught" when she visited the preserve the previous day.

"These animals were like kids for her," he said.

The only animals currently at the preserve are horses — some of which had their own harrowing experiences after being chased by marauding tigers and bears Tuesday night.

Ohio is one of a handful of states that do not have laws regulating the ownership of exotic species.

An emergency order limiting ownership of such animals, signed by former Gov. Ted Strickland last year, a few days before he left office, was not extended by the current governor, John R. Kasich.

On Thursday, Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Kasich, said Kasich had been supportive of the concept of Strickland’s executive order — including banning ownership by people, like Terry Thompson, who had been found guilty of animal cruelty.

Thompson was convicted in 2005 after three cows and a buffalo he owned died, apparently because they were not given enough food and water, according to court documents. He was sentenced to six months of house arrest.

The governor’s spokesman said the order had been impossible to enforce and most likely would have failed to withstand a court challenge.

"The order was not worth the paper it was printed on," Nichols, the spokesman, said, referring to a provision that placed enforcement in the hands of the State Department of Natural Resources, which he said was not prepared to carry out such duties.

Nichols said that a task force was working on a measure that would eventually be introduced in the Legislature.

The task force had been given until the end of the year to come up with a plan, Nichols said, but will now likely work with greater speed.

Besides the Bengal tigers, the animals killed were nine male lions and eight lionesses, six black bears, three mountain lions, two grizzly bears, two wolves and a baboon.

In addition to the mystery of why he let his animals loose knowing they would probably be killed, Thompson left behind another puzzle: Store-bought chicken parts, which he fed his animals, were left in the driveway not far from his body. Friends said he usually fed the animals while they were in their cages.

 

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