ZANESVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - Dozens of exotic animals including tigers, lions and bears were let loose on Ohio farmland by their owner before he committed suicide, sparking a shoot-to-kill hunt for the wild beasts and forcing panicked residents to stay inside on Wednesday.
A grizzly bear and a mountain lion -- one of which had strayed onto a neighbor's property -- were captured on Wednesday, leaving only a monkey unaccounted for out of about 50 animals on the farm, said Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz.
The animals had roamed out of their cages and off the farm and one went as far as an interstate highway shortly before dark on Tuesday near Zanesville in eastern Ohio. Authorities shut down schools and posted electronic warning signs "Caution Exotic Animals" for motorists and urged people to stay inside.
"We are not talking about your normal every day house cat or dog. These are 300-pound Bengal tigers that we had to put down," Lutz said. "I gave the order ... that if animals looked like they were on their way out, they were put down."
Lutz said 48 to 51 animals had been kept on the farm.
Owner Terry Thompson, who had been charged in the past with animal cruelty, was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted wound when authorities went to the farm Tuesday after reports of animals running free, Lutz said at a news conference. They found gates and animal pens open.
"There were animals running loose outside the fenced area," he said. Some, including primates, were secured on the farm.
Lutz said animals kept at the farm included wolves, grizzly and black bears and many types of "big cats" such as cheetahs, mountain lions and leopards, in addition to lions and tigers.
Authorities said they had received about 35 calls in recent years about the menagerie. Complaints ranged from animals running loose to not being treated properly, Lutz said.
"We've handled numerous complaints here, we've done numerous inspections here," he said. "So this has been a huge problem for us for a number of years."
Thompson had been charged with animal cruelty 11 times between 2004 and 2009, the local newspaper reported, citing county court records.
There were allegations he undernourished his horses, then fed them to lions when they died, said Larry Hostetler, executive director of the Muskingum County Animal Shelter.
Lutz described the freed animals found as "mature, very big and aggressive."
One bear attacked a law enforcement officer, Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, told ABC News. Another animal -- some type of big cat -- wandered onto an interstate highway and was hit by a vehicle, Lutz said.
The sheriff said they tried to shoot some of the animals with tranquilizer guns but encountered problems.
"We just had a huge tiger, an adult tiger that must've weighed 300 pounds that was very aggressive," Lutz said. "We got a tranquilizer in it and this thing just went crazy."
The tiger was then killed, he said.
Lutz said he issued a shoot-to-kill order Tuesday evening and stationed officers on Interstate 70 about a mile west of the Zanesville city limits to prevent animals from crossing.
"We were not going to have animals running loose off this farm at night," he told reporters.
He said he also ordered the schools closed on Wednesday. "We didn't want kids standing at the bus stop" while wild animals were loose, Lutz said.
Hanna told the news conference Lutz and his deputies did the right thing.
"These are dangerous animals," Hanna said. "He and other people there are doing everything they can to capture the animals humanely but these are dangerous animals."
In addition to the animal cruelty charges, Lutz also was convicted of illegal firearms possession in 2008 and spent a year in prison, according to court documents found by Reuters