Exotic animal owner in Zaneville, Ohio, accused of neglect

Exotic animal owner Terry Thompson had a history of neglecting his animals, says an animal welfare official. Most of the 56 animals set free Tuesday in Zaneville, Ohio, were killed by law enforcement officers.

By , Reuters

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    Investigators walk around a barn on Terry Thompson's farm where animal carcasses lay on the ground near Zaneville, Ohio.(
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The exotic animal collector who freed his bears, tigers and dozens of exotic animals in Ohio before killing himself, kept them in poor conditions and fed his lions meat from malnourished horses, an animal welfare expert who knew him said on Wednesday.

"When he was charged with animal neglect, there were complaints that he wasn't feeding his horses enough, and then when they would die he would feed them to the lions," said Larry Hostetler, executive director of the Muskingum County Animal Shelter.

"We've been trying to get him shut down since 2003," Hostetler said, adding that authorities had made several visits to Terry Thompson's farm since 2004 and found underfed animals with open sores.

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Thompson was found dead at the farm on Tuesday from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. The Muskingum County sheriff said 49 of the 56 animals – including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions - set loose from their pens were killed. Still at large was a macaque monkey, which may be infected with the herpes B virus and will be put down if found.

Officials say the animals will be buried on Thompson's farm.

Thompson, 62, was released on September 30 after spending a year in federal prison on a firearms conviction. Agents raided his farm in June 2008 and found 133 guns. He told an informant he dealt guns illegally after giving up his dealing license five years earlier, court documents showed.

His wife, Marian, cared for the animals during his absence, but she left the farm when he returned, Hostetler said.

Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, said in an interview he believed Thompson returned from prison and found the animals in bad shape.

"His wife's not there. He has all these animals living in filth," said Hanna, a frequent guest on television shows discussing the habits of exotic animals.

Veterinarians said conditions on the farm were deplorable.

Thompson, who Hostetler said lived off inherited money, kept the animals he collected at his 73-acre (30-hectare) farm, an inventory that at various points included camels, a giraffe, lions, tigers and panthers, Hostetler said. He never entertained visitors or schoolchildren.

"The more exotic, the more he was interested in them," Hostetler said.

In 2007, Hostetler noticed that Thompson and a few of his tiger cubs participated in a photo shoot with model Heidi Klum. Hostetler called Klum's managers and suggested they be more careful about animal trainers they use.

'VERY SAD'

Thompson had been ejected several times from annual pet fairs in Zanesville because he would bring cuddly looking bear cubs that would snarl and growl at visitors, Hostetler said. Thompson bred animals on the farm.

"These animals were not socialized, and they were not tame enough to be around the public and he had to be removed from the property," he said.

"He has hired people off and on, but they usually didn't last very long. The animals were not fed properly, they didn't receive proper medical care, their pens were less than desired, I guess you could say. It was enough to be within the law," he said.

"It's very sad," he added.

Hanna said lax laws allowed collectors to keep animals in marginal conditions. There is also no refuge or repository to place large, dangerous animals that are confiscated.

"The problem is the dealers. You have to figure out where people are buying these animals," many of which are endangered species, he said.

Hanna said authorities did the right thing in killing the freed animals on the loose because they were dangerous.

(Reporting by Jim Leckrone; Writing and reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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