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Dozens of exotic animals killed in Ohio

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ZANESVILLE, Ohio (AP) - Amid expressions of horror and revulsion at the killing of dozens of wild animals in Ohio - and photographs of their bloody carcasses - animal rights advocates agreed there was little local authorities could have done to save the dangerous creatures once they began roaming the countryside after their owner released them before taking his own life.

Deputies responded to initial reports of loose bears, big cats and other beasts.

Sheriff's deputies shot 48 animals - including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions - after Terry Thompson, owner of the private Muskingum County Animal Farm near Zanesville, threw their cages open Tuesday and then committed suicide.

Thompson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and also had a bite wound on the head that appeared to have come from a large cat, such as a Bengal tiger, county Sheriff Matt Lutz said Thursday morning.

It appeared the bite occurred quickly after Thompson shot himself, Lutz said.

"What a tragedy," said veterinarian Barb Wolfe, of The Wilds animal preserve sponsored by the Columbus Zoo. "We knew that ... there were so many dangerous animals at this place that eventually something bad would happen, but I don't think anybody really knew it would be this bad."

As the hunt winded down on Wednesday, a photo showing the remains of tigers, bears and lions lined up and scattered in an open field went viral provoking visceral reactions among viewers, some of whom expressed their anger and sadness on social networking sites.

Some local townspeople also were saddened by the deaths. At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser said: "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals."

Authorities said the slain animals would be buried on Thompson's farm.

Will Travers, chief executive of the California-based Born Free USA animal welfare and wildlife conservation organization, said police had no choice but to take the action they did.

"It's a tragedy for these particular animals, for no fault of their own they've been shot, and I can see how difficult that decision was for the police," he said.

Jack Hanna, TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo, also defended the sheriff's decision to kill the animals, calling deaths of the endangered Bengal tigers especially tragic.

The animals destroyed also included six black bears, two grizzlies, a baboon, a wolf and three mountain lions. "It's like Noah's Ark wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," Hanna said.

Six - three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys – were captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo. "We are happy to report they all seem to be doing very well," zoo spokeswoman Patti Peters said in a statement Thursday.

A wolf was later found dead, leaving a monkey as the only animal possibly still unaccounted for in the mostly rural community of farms, widely spaced homes and wooded areas about 55 miles east of Columbus.

While the sheriff's office said early Thursday that the search for the monkey was still active, Lutz said the animal may no longer be a concern. "We have had no reported sightings of anything, and it's a high probability that he could have been eaten by one of the big cats," Lutz told the CBS "Early Show" on Thursday.

Officers were ordered to kill the animals instead of trying to bring them down with tranquilizers for fear that those hit with darts would escape in the darkness before they dropped and would later regain consciousness.

"There were so many animals running at large that I made the decision that we were not going to have wild animals running loose on our streets," Lutz told CBS. "There was no way of telling which animals would lay down, where these animals would end up."

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