By ANDY BROWNFIELD and KANTELE FRANKO
ZANESVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A mountain lion, grizzly bear and monkey were the only animals still running loose after being set free from an exotic-animal preserve, an Ohio sheriff said Wednesday, as authorities tried to piece together why the preserve’s owner apparently released dozens of animals before committing suicide.
The Muskingum County Sheriff’s office has received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals at the property in eastern Ohio, sheriff Matt Lutz added.
Muskingum County Animal Farm owner Terry Thompson killed himself after freeing the animals, Lutz said, following a night during which officials hunted down and shot to death nearly 30 of the 48 animals, including lions, bears and wolves.
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.
The preserve in Zanesville, about 55 miles east of Columbus, had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears.
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.
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