Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Wild animals on loose from US park

Dozens of animals have escaped from a US wild animal preserve that houses bears, big cats and other beasts, and the owner later was found dead.

Officers shot several of the animals and urged nearby residents to stay indoors.

Fences had been left unsecured at the Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville, east-central Ohio, and the animals' cages were open, police said.

They would not say what animals escaped but said the preserve had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears. They said bears and wolves were among 25 escaped animals that had been shot and killed and there were multiple sightings of exotic animals along a nearby highway.

"These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa," Sheriff Matt Lutz warned.

He called the escaped animals "mature, very big, aggressive" but said a caretaker told authorities the preserve's 48 animals had been fed on Monday. He said police were patrolling the 40-acre farm and the surrounding areas in cars, not on foot, and were concerned about big cats and bears hiding in the dark and in trees.

Mr Lutz said four deputies with assault rifles in a pickup truck went to the animal farm, where they found the owner, Terry Thompson, dead and all the animal cage doors open. He wouldn't say how Mr Thompson died but said several aggressive animals were near his body when deputies arrived and had to be shot.

Mr Thompson, who lived on the property, had orangutans and chimps in his home, but those were still in their cages, Mr Lutz said.

The deputies, who saw many other animals standing outside their cages and others that had escaped past the fencing surrounding the property, began shooting them on sight. They said there had been no reports of injuries among the public.

Staff from Columbus Zoo went to the scene, hoping to tranquillise and capture the animals. The sheriff said caretakers might put food in the animals' open cages to try to lure them back.

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