Ohio police are investigating the possibility that Terry Thompson, the owner of the Zanesville reserve where 48 wild animals escaped from, may have opened their cages and then committed suicide.
Terry Thompson, owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm in Zanesville was found dead by authorities having his body surrounded by a number of aggressive animals.
It was reported that almost 30 wild animals have been shot and killed until now and the residents were warned to stay indoors.
48 tigers, lions, wolves, giraffes, camels, cheetahs and bears bolted after their cages were left open in the reservation.
Sheriff Matt Lutz said: “We are not ruling out any possibility right now about who let the animals out of the cages and what happened to Mr Thompson. We are waiting on the results of the preliminary autopsy to establish cause of death.”
It was also reported that Terry Thompson, 62, who lived at the Muskingum County Animal Farm, had chimps in cages in his home but these were still locked up.
Jack Hanna, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium director emeritus told FOX News Channel: “The animals are hunkered down in trees right now, like you would be if it were raining.
“That’s good and bad, because the weather would reduce the danger for local residents but make the recovery of the animals more difficult.
“I’m hoping that by tonight we can account for most of these creatures.”
Authorities in Zanesville urged nearby residents to stay in their houses as animals were spotted wandering up and down highways in the area.
Terry Thompson was released from prison three weeks ago after serving a one-year term for weapons offences.
According to the New York Post, Terry Thompson was convicted of cruelty to animals and placed under house arrest for six months in 2005.
A Zanesville veterinarian who inspected some of Terry Thompson’s animals described him as “an animal collector”, although Thompson claimed he was operating an animal shelter.
Terry Thompson was also said to be involved in fashion photography, and once provided lion cubs for use in a photo shoot with model Heidi Klum in 2007.
Police refused to give details of all the animals that had been shot but said bears and wolves were among the 30 animals killed.
Sheriff Matt Lutz said: “These are wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa.”