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Hanna: Animals owner's wife called them her kids

Animal expert Jack Hanna says Marian Thompson, wife of Terry Thompson -- who committed suicide after he released dozens of exotic animals from their Zanesville, Ohio farm -- is heartbroken over their loss.

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Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, worked tirelessly with police Wednesday as they tracked down some 56 exotic animals.

He says Marian Thompson was uncontrollable over the loss of the animals, which she called "her children." Many of the animals were killed during the frantic search, and the animals still on the farm were taken to the Columbus Zoo for care and housing.

He said, "I understood she was very upset at me for taking her 'children' ... for someone killing her 'children,' and why would I be up there trying to take the remaining three leopards, (the small apes) and one grizzly. ... She was crying. She was actually uncontrollable.

You know what I did? When you see somebody that's just beaten to death, she's just done, she's lost her husband, I can't help that ... but you see someone that's has lost everything -- I hugged her and I tried to hold her. She was shaking. She said, 'I've lost everything.' I said, 'I'm not taking your children. I'm taking them to the Columbus Zoo to take care of them. They're still your children, they're still your animals. But we cannot bring them back in these conditions. I'm trying to help you right now."'

Referring to the animals who were shot dead, Hanna continued, "Tears started coming out of my eyes. I don't want anybody to feel sorry for Jack Hanna, but I'm saying that the emotions with me and our staff, the sheriff's deputies -- when you saw the deputies sitting there shooting the animals, I wish you could have seen their faces, I wish you would have seen them when they said they had to go talk to their children. That's not something they wanted to do. Half of them looked like they had tears in their eyes (about) what they'd done. They were afraid to look at me, because here they are shooting at animals that Jack Hanna is trying to save, you know?

This is something, if you tried to write a script, I can't imagine Hollywood coming up with something like this. This is such a bad dream for all of us. It's over now. The animals lost their lives."

The shoot-to-kill orders from Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz, who was overseeing the situation at the Thompsons' animal farm, were questioned by many, including Hanna himself when he arrived at the scene of animal carnage.

"It's been the worst thing that has ever happened to me in 40 years of this career," Hanna said. "I said yesterday when I got there at daylight and saw (what had happened), and I go, 'Why couldn't we have tranquilized them?'"

However, when Hanna learned more about the situation, he said he began to understand the orders.

"You only had four tranquilizer guns that got there," he explained. "Picture about 30 or 40 (exotic animals) coming out of this whole compound with four tranquilizer guns. ... What can be done with four guns?"

Also, he said, the effect on the animals of a tranquilizer gun isn't instantaneous. He said, "What you have happen here, once you hit the animal, the animal goes and for three to 10 minutes, he's not down, he's nervous and running everywhere, the drug is taking effect. No telling what would have happened with only four tranquilizer guns were all we had there and we had 30 to 40 some animals."

Hanna said people would surely have died if the animals hadn't been taken down. "They're huge carnivores," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind ... we would have had some deaths on our hands. Therefore, (the sheriff) had to make a critical decision. Every time I look at it, I know people are contacting (local authorities from) around England, Australia, all over, very upset over this whole thing, about the sheriff doing this. He had no choice, or we would have had a major loss of human life in Zanesville, Ohio, yesterday, during the nighttime and especially yesterday morning when the sun came up. So it's all over with now. I sat here last night and cried several times. I look at these pictures. I don't believe it's happened, but what (happened) had to happen, or we would have had a mess on our hands beyond comprehension."

Hanna added some good is coming out of the situation in the form of new legislation to avoid the kind of situation that unfolded in Zanesville. Hanna said the governor is ready to propose laws to ensure animal safety. Hanna said a ban on the sale of exotic animals in the state is in the works, as well as new state standards for exotic animal care. Hanna says he plans to have a say in those standards, and if necessary, begin to remove animals from sub-par living conditions.

He said, "This will be one of the toughest states in the country when this gets done to pull anything like this off ever again. As long as I'm here, I know the governor, and (former)Gov. (Ted) Strickland started this whole thing, and (current) Gov. (John) Kasich will carry it through in the next few months, and we will be out there and this will not happen again here under my watch in the state of Ohio unless somebody is sneaking this in without us knowing inside of a cave or something."