Hunt Goes on for Freed Beasts in Ohio

Posted October 19th, 2011 at 2:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Sheriff's deputies with high-powered rifles are searching farmland in the central U.S. state of Ohio, trying to track down an escaped grizzly bear, mountain lion and monkey.

The beasts have been on the run since late Tuesday, when the owner of an exotic animal preserve freed them before killing himself.

Law enforcement officials say as many as 51 animals – including lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves and bears – were let loose from the Muskingum County Animal Farm. By early Wednesday morning, officials said about 30 of the animals had been shot and killed.

The former director of the nearby Columbus Zoo, Jack Hanna, said the scene was “like Noah's Ark.”

Hanna defended officials' decision to shoot and kill many of the animals. The local sheriff, Matt Lutz, said the shoot-to-kill order was necessary for public safety.

Police said the farm owner's body was found near one of the open cages, surrounded by some of the animals.

Law enforcement officials said they were aware of potential problems at the farm and had visited several times in the past few years.

The owner recently was released from prison, where he served time on a weapons-related charge. Officials said he also had a prior conviction for animal cruelty.

The farm also was home to camels and giraffes. Orangutans and chimpanzees kept in cages inside the farmer's home did not escape.

Schools in the area closed for the day and signs along area highways warned drivers to stay inside their vehicles.