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Bears, lions, other exotic creatures escape from Ohio animal farm

by Jorge Hernandez on October 19, 2011

Officials in eastern Ohio closed schools on Wednesday after dozens of exotic animals escaped a game preserve after their owner died. At least three school districts canceled class as police hunted down big cats, bears, wolves and other creatures from Muskingum County Animal Farm, NBC reports.

Police are still investigating the cause of death for farm owner Terry Thompson, but there is some speculation that he committed suicide. Investigators are also looking into the possibility that he left the animals cages open and the farm's fences unlocked. By the end of the day Tuesday authorities had shot and killed 30 of the 48 escaped animals.

Still, local experts, including workers from the nearby Columbus Zoo, highlighted the dangers of potentially aggressive carnivores on the loose.

"These are all adult carnivores, so when we talk about the lions and tigers as well as bears, they are all dangerous, especially that they are now out of their area, their enclosures that they were normally in, so they are panicking as well," the zoo's senior vice president Tom Stalf told NBC's Today Show.

This isn't the first time that the animals have escaped and Thompson was regularly in legal trouble because of it. According to CNN, he pleaded guilty earlier this year to a slew of charges including possessing illegal firearms, and had recently been released from jail.

Whether or not Thompson was allowed to have such exotic animals is questionable as well. A spokesperson for Ohio Department of Natural Resources said he had permits to keep four black bears. Neighbors have also reported seeing animals in the past. Daniel White, who lives next to the Zanesville, Ohio, farm told NBC that he has had to avoid camels that were grazing on the side of the road before.

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