"We are not talking about your normal everyday house cat," Sheriff Matt Lutz said at a news conference Wednesday, reports the Columbus Dispatch. "We could not have animals running loose in this county."
A total of 56 animals, including lions, Bengal tigers, cheetahs and wolves, had escaped from a 40-acre exotic-animal farm in Zanesville, about 50 miles from Columbus, after its suicidal owner, Terry Thompson, 62, apparently freed them late Tuesday before killing himself.
In a later press conference Wednesday afternoon, officials revealed that a total of 48 animals were put down, including 18 tigers and 17 lions. Other animals that had been tranquilized were taken to the Columbus Zoo.
Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, described the situation as being "like Noah's ark wrecked." He also defended killing the animals out of concern for public safety.
The subject of many complaints by his neighbors, Thompson reportedly was charged with animal cruelty and two other related convictions in 2005. The Dispatch also reported that an executive order that Ohio Gov. John Kasich permitted to lapse would have prevented Thompson from owning his exotic menagerie.
The paper also described Thompson as a Vietnam veteran, pilot, admirer of vintage firearms and a businessman. "I don't let my animals run loose," Thompson told the Zanesville Times Recorder last year. "I'm not going to put anyone else, including myself and my wife, in danger or put my animals at risk."
Sheriff Lutz announced midday Wednesday that all the animals were accounted for, except a monkey and a wolf. Earlier, he also described a particularly frightening incident in which officials were confronted by a 300-lb. tiger, who eventually was killed.
"Public safety is our No. 1 concern," he emphasized.
Trevor Jones / AP