Updated 7:50 p.m. ET
ZANESVILLE, Ohio - Sheriff's deputies shot nearly 50 wild animals -- including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions -- in a big-game hunt across the Ohio countryside Wednesday after the owner of an exotic-animal park threw their cages open and committed suicide in what appeared to be one last act of spite against his neighbors and police.
As homeowners nervously hid indoors, officers equipped with high-powered rifles and shoot-to-kill orders spread out through fields and woods to hunt down about 56 animals that had been set loose from the Muskingum County Animal Farm by its owner, Terry Thompson, before he shot himself to death Tuesday.
At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Muskingum County Sherriff Matt Lutz announced that of the 56 escaped animals, 48 were put down. They included 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, eight bears and a wolf, Lutz said. Six animals were captured alive and taken to the Columbus Zoo.
The two remaining loose animals at the time of the press conference were a monkey and a wolf. CBS affiliate WBNS Columbus reported shortly thereafter that the wolf has been shot and recovered by police.
That leaves only the monkey, which Lutz warned may carry herpes B. The director of the Columbus Zoo recommended that the monkey be shot and killed if spotted.
Lutz said that Thompson's widow was at the scene and has been cooperative.
"This was a very, very bad situation, [which] couldn't have been handled without everybody involved doing their job," said Lutz."
Schools closed, parents were warned to keep children and pets indoors, and flashing signs along highways told motorists, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle."
"It's like Noah's Ark, like, wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," said Jack Hanna, TV personality and former director of the Columbus Zoo. "Noah's Ark filled with tigers and lions and all leopards and a few monkeys and whatever, and it crashes here, and all of a sudden they're out there."
Hanna said the deaths of the Bengal tigers were especially tragic. There are only about 1,400 of the endangered cats left in the world, he said.
"When I heard 18 I was still in disbelief," he said. "The most magnificent creature in the entire world, the tiger is."
Neighbor Danielle White, whose father's property abuts the Muskingum County Animal Farm, said she didn't see loose animals this time but did in 2006, when a lion escaped.
"It's always been a fear of mine knowing (the owner) had all those animals," she said. "I have kids. I've heard a male lion roar all night."
Officers in the mostly rural area about 55 miles east of Columbus were under orders to shoot to kill for fear that animals hit with tranquilizer darts would run off and hide in the darkness.
The owner of the preserve, Terry Thompson, left the cages open and the fences unsecured, releasing dozens of animals, including lions, tigers, bears and wolves, before committing suicide, said Lutz.
The sheriff would not speculate why Thompson killed himself and why he left open the cages and fences at his 73-acre preserve, dooming the animals he seemed to love so much.
Thompson had had repeated run-ins with the law, and Lutz said the sheriff's office had received numerous complaints since 2004 about animals at the property. Thompson had gotten out of federal prison just last month after pleading guilty to possessing unregistered guns.
"This is a bad situation," the sheriff said. "It's been a situation for a long time."
The sheriff said his office started getting calls Tuesday evening that wild animals were loose just west of Zanesville on a road that runs under Interstate 70. He said deputies with rifles went to the animal preserve, where they found Thompson dead and all the cages open. Several aggressive animals were near his body and had to be shot, the sheriff said.
Lutz said his main concern was protecting the public in the area, where homes sit on large lots of sometimes 10 acres. Nearby Zanesville has a population of about 25,000.
"If the animals looked like they were going (out of the property), I told (deputies), 'Put them down,'" said Lutz, as reported by WBNS.
Hanna defended the sheriff against criticism that the animals should have been captured alive.
"What was he to do at nighttime with tigers and lions, leopards, going out there?" Hanna said. "In the wild this would be a different situation."
The preserve in Zanesville had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears. Lutz called the animals very big and aggressive but said a caretaker told authorities they had been fed on Monday.
White, the preserve's neighbor, said Thompson had repeatedly been in legal trouble.
"He was in hot water because of the animals, because of permits, and (the animals) escaping all the time," White said. A few weeks ago, she said, she had to avoid some camels that were grazing on the side of a freeway.
At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser said: "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals."
Bailey Hartman, a night manager at a McDonald's, also said it saddened her that the animals were shot. But she said, "I was kind of scared coming in to work."
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them. In 2010, an animal caretaker was killed by a bear at a property in Cleveland.
On Wednesday, the Humane Society of the United States criticized Gov. John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire in April. The organization urged the state to immediately issue emergency restrictions.
"How many incidents must we catalog before the state takes action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals?" Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO, said in a statement.