Watch out Robin Williams. Jumanji may be a reality in rural Ohio. Forty-eight wild animals were set free from a preserve early Wednesday morning, transforming the small town of Zanesville into a scene from Animal Planet.
Lions, tigers and bears (oh my!), along with cheetahs, giraffes, wolves and monkeys were among the exotic animals let loose from Muskingum County Animal Farm, where authorities found owner Terry Thompson dead, his animal pens emptied and fences left unsecured.
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Police said 43 to 44 of the animals have been accounted for, and believe a mountain lion, a monkey and a bear are still at large. Ohio Highway Patrol have spotted the lion near the I-70 highway near Zanesville. The Columbus Zoo and Ohio Department of Natural Resources have been called in for support, but officers have been ordered to shoot to kill.
“It comes down to time, daylight and assessment of this situation to determine how many animals we’ll be able to recapture,” Columbus Zoo Senior Vice President Tom Stal told the Today show. Without sunlight to aid them, officers spent the early morning in the rain using night vision equipment to patrol the 40-acre farm and surrounding area just two miles outside Zanesville.
Authorities said at least 30 to 35 of the animals, including a 300-pound Bengal tiger, have been killed. Zanesville Sheriff Matt Lutz warned the animals were “mature, very big and aggressive.”
“We are trying our best to make sure no one is hurt doing this,” Columbus Zoo director emeritus Jack Hanna said. Meanwhile the town of Zanesville has taken precaution, closing four school districts while highway flashing signs warn drivers. Resident Sam Kopchak said he spotted a tiger chasing horses Tuesday evening, along with roaming lions and bears.
Zanesville Mayor Howard Zwlling told CNN that Thompson freed the animals before taking his own life. Thompson, 62, was released from prison just three weeks ago after serving a one-year sentence for the possession of illegal firearms, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Ohio is known for its less-than-stringent exotic pet laws, which authorities said they hope will change after Wednesday’s incident.
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