Ohio Officials Hunt For Escaped Exotic Animals

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CHICAGO (AFP) -- An Ohio town was on lockdown early Wednesday after dozens of dangerous wild animals -- including lions, tigers and other large carnivores -- escaped from an exotic farm and were on the prowl.

Police with a shoot-to-kill order overnight hunted down about two dozen of the animals overnight in and around the town of Zanesville, Ohio, but officials said an undetermined number were still at large early Wednesday.

Experts from the nearby Columbus Zoo were enlisted to help track down the animals.

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"It's a very dangerous situation and we're taking all the precautions we can," Tom Stalf, the zoo's senior vice president told NBC television's "Today Show" program.

Authorities ordered local residents to stay indoors and cordoned off the area around the farm, where the owner was found dead near several open cages.

The incident began around 5:30 pm on Tuesday when police started receiving emergency calls about wild animal sightings. Police and wildlife officials scrambled to hunt down the animals, shooting 25 of them.

Officials closed area schools and ordered residents of the to proceed with extreme caution.

"These are all adult carnivores. When we talk about the lions and tigers, as well as the bears, they're all dangerous, especially now that they are out of... enclosures that they're normally in," Stalf said.

Police said some 48 animals -- including grizzly and black bears, wolves, and several species of large cats, including lions, tigers and cheetahs -- were kept in cages outside the house, while dozens more animals -- mainly primates -- lived indoors and had not escaped.

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The farm's owner, 62-year-old Terry Thompson, had been released from federal prison three weeks earlier after serving a one-year term on firearms charges, it said.

News report said federal agents raided the farm in June 2008, seizing more than 100 guns, and that Thompson had previously been fined for letting his animals wander.

"We don't know how much of a head start these animals had on us," Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said at a press conference late Tuesday.

"Our number one priority is public safety. We want to make sure that the public is aware that we need to be careful." "Our first responsibility is to protect the public," Lutz said.

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Kate Riley, 20, whose family owns a nearby cattle farm, said the animals' owner would sometimes come and take their dead cows to feed his lions.

"He'd have claw marks all over him," she told the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. She added that she believed Thompson's wife had recently left him and moved out.

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