US & Canada

Ohio animal Terry Thompson owner shot himself - police

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Media captionJack Hanna, wild animal expert: ''To hear 18 Bengal tigers had to lose their lives... I'm still in disbelief''

The owner of a private Ohio zoo from where dozens of exotic animals were set free died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the local sheriff has confirmed.

A post-mortem examination also showed that Terry Thompson was bitten by one of his animals, possibly a tiger, shortly after his death.

More than 50 animals - including lions, tigers, wolves and bears - were shot dead after being freed in Zanesville.

One monkey still at large may have have been eaten by a big cat, police say.

"We have had no reported sightings of anything, and it's a high probability that he could have been eaten by one of the big cats," Sheriff Matt Lutz told CBS News on Thursday morning.

'Volatile situation'

Officials said the "volatile situation" of animals escaping from the 73 acre (29 hectare) Muskingum County Animal Farm and the approach of nightfall on Tuesday had prompted the shoot-to-kill order.

Among those killed were 17 lions and 18 Bengal tigers.

US nature TV host Jack Hanna said the killing of the tigers was especially tragic as there were only about 1,400 remaining in the world.

Six animals - three leopards, one grizzly bear and two monkeys - were captured and have been sent to the nearby Columbus Zoo.

Mr Hanna, a former director of Columbus Zoo, in the nearby Ohio state capital, said tranquilising animals in the dark was incredibly dangerous, and told reporters that "the sheriff did the right thing".

Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan Merry was one of the first to respond to the incident.

He shot a grey wolf and a black bear, firing his pistol as the bear charged at him. The policeman said the bear was about 7ft (2m) away when he killed it with a single round.

Lax regulation

At the height of the scare, police urged people in Zanesville to stay indoors and flashing signs along nearby highways told motorists: "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle".

Several local school districts cancelled classes on Wednesday.

Image caption The shoot-to-kill order has been criticised, but also supported by one wildlife expert

"We didn't want kids waiting by the bus stop and seeing these big animals," Mr Lutz said.

Ohio has some of America's most lax regulation of exotic pets, reports say - and some of the country's highest rates of injuries and deaths caused by them.

Mr Lutz said his main concern was protecting the public in the largely rural area.

A neighbour of Mr Thompson, Danielle White, said the animal-keeper had been in legal trouble.

"He was in hot water because of the animals, because of permits, and [the animals] escaping all the time," Ms White said. A few weeks ago, she said, she had to avoid some camels grazing on the side of a freeway.

Mr Thompson had been released from federal prison three weeks earlier after serving a one-year term on firearms charges, according to the AFP news agency.

His farm was reportedly raided June 2008, seizing more than 100 guns.

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