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Animals' keeper kills himself after letting dangerous big cats, others loose

The backyard zookeeper in Ohio who released his exotic animals on Tuesday was bitten in the head around the same time he committed suicide, authorities said, raising questions about whether one of the animals turned on him.

Terry W. Thompson, 62, the owner of the private Muskingum County Animal Farm near Zanesville, Ohio, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He also had bite marks on his head that appeared to come from a large cat, such as one of the Bengal tigers he kept, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said during a news conference Thursday. It appears that the bite occurred around the time that Thompson shot himself, and that his body had been dragged a short distance, Lutz said.

Sheriff's deputies shot and killed 48 animals — including 18 tigers and 17 lions — after Thompson threw open the cages at his farm and then killed himself. All but one of the animals at the compound — including wolves, a baboon, and mountain lions — have been killed, captured or eaten by one of the cats.

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 wake up. Animal rights advocates agreed there was little local authorities could have done to save the dangerous creatures once they began roaming the countryside.There has been some speculation this was a final act of spite by Thompson aimed at neighbors and law enforcement officers. Police had been out to Thompson's ranch over the years, investigating allegations of animal cruelty and gun charges.

Others speculated that Thompson was frustrated over financial problems; Thompson and his wife, Marian, owed at least $68,000 in unpaid income and property taxes, according to court records.

Animals' keeper kills himself after letting dangerous big cats, others loose 10/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 21, 2011 12:14am]
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