By Wednesday night, only a macaque monkey remained loose, but authorities warned residents to avoid the animal because it might carry a virus dangerous to humans.
The 56 animals had belonged to Terry Thompson, 61, who was found dead Tuesday at dusk in the driveway of the 73-acre farm just outside the city after officers responded to a report of bears and lions chasing horses on the property. When deputies arrived, they could see the menagerie running free, trying to get out.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said he suspected Thompson let the animals out of their cages and then committed suicide, but no note was found and an autopsy was pending.
The sheriff's office used Twitter and Facebook to alert citizens to the trouble, sending out this message around dinnertime Tuesday: "****ALERT**** Several wild exotic animals have got loose of captivity in the area of Kopchak Rd and Interstate 70."
There were updates throughout the following day, advising residents to stay away from some areas and to call 911 should they spot an animal.
Lutz said the deputies, armed only with sidearms and Tasers, were instructed to shoot because it was growing dark and officials feared the animals might escape into the woods. Two were shot in a neighbor's yard, he said.
"I'm glad that they had the courage to get out of their cars and keep the animals confined," he said of his deputies. "They risked their lives."
In one case, a bear charged a deputy before he shot it.
'My heart aches'
The Columbus Zoo dispatched experts with hopes of tranquilizing the remaining animals, but with little success. A zoo veterinarian crept up on a full-grown tiger and shot it with a tranquilizer dart, but the tiger "got up, showed aggressive behavior toward her, and then it started running away," Lutz said. The animal was then shot and killed by a deputy.
Celebrity wildlife expert Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, who was on the scene Wednesday advising law enforcement and doing interviews, said the animals had to be killed and the deputies were troubled by what they had to do.
"My heart aches for the animals," he said. "But my heart also aches for all of the people who could have lost their lives."
"You're not taught anything about how to handle situations like this in academy training," Lutz said.
He described Thompson as a troubled man who was separated from his wife and had recently been released from federal prison, where he had been serving a one-year sentence on weapons charges.
Thompson, a Vietnam veteran who held several jobs, and his wife, Marian, 60, a retired grade-school teacher, began collecting exotic animals in 1996 when they attended an exotic-animal auction. In a deposition given as part of her husband's federal gun-possession case, Thompson said that for her birthday on that visit, he bought her a baby lion that wasn't too healthy.
After that purchase, she said: "Once you have an exotic animal, you're somewhat tagged as someone who will take unwanted or abandoned animals."
Lutz said deputies had made more than 30 visits to the property over the last six years on complaints of loose animals or animal cruelty. Thompson had been convicted of misdemeanor charges related to animal mistreatment, he said.
John Callow, a former neighbor, said Thompson once brought a lion on a leash to a "pet share" event where families brought their dogs and cats. "It was very irresponsible," he said.
Marian Thompson assisted officers and zoo officials in the search for the animals and is expected to get the surviving animals back, Lutz said. The dead animals were buried on the property - at her request - after someone tried to steal a lion corpse.
Debbie Leahy, captive wildlife regulatory specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, who had flown in from Chicago, and others blamed the incident on Ohio's weak restrictions regarding the management of exotic animals.
"Unfortunately, rural officers . . . are forced to deal with rampaging chimpanzees and tigers running amok because of lax laws," she said.
The article contains information from the Associated Press.