An Ohio town is under lockdown as dozens of wild animals including bears, wolves and tigers have escaped from a private preserve are and are on the loose after the owner of the preserve has been found dead.
Terry Thompson of Zanesville, Ohio, was found dead of unknown causes inside the preserve while the animals cages were found unsecured. Thompson, 61, was recently released from prison after serving one year on federal weapons charges. According to investigators he has been cited in the past for animal abuse and neglect.
Speaking on "Good Morning America" Wednesday Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said that they will not have a count on how many animals have been killed until daylight arrives in Ohio.
"Right now we did have [reports of] some sightings overnight," Lutz told "GMA." "None were confirmed. At daybreak we'll go back in and get a body count … we do have tranquillizers on site since this thing started."
Lutz said at a news conference that residents should stay inside until the animals, which escaped around 6 p.m. Tuesday, are rounded up. Several schools across the area have cancelled classes for Wednesday.
Police, who have been ordered to shoot to kill, describe the loose animals as "mature, very big and aggressive."
Lutz said that several aggressive animals were shot by deputies when they were discovered near Thompson's body at his preserve. Thompson's preserve was surrounded by a fence, and not all animals on the property fled through the open gates.
"These are wild animals, wild animals that you would see on TV in Africa," Lutz said at a news conference Tuesday evening.
As many as 48 wild animals, including cheetahs, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, lions, a white Siberian tiger, camels and giraffes are on the loose across Zanesville, which has a population of about 25,000 residents. Police said that orangutans and chimps were found in Thompson's home, but they were still in their cages.
Officers said Tuesday that they have shot as many as 25 of the animals so far, including bears and wolves, but it is still unclear exactly how many animals escaped, according to the Muskingum County Sheriff's Department.
"This is a bad situation," Mutz said. "It's been a bad situation for a long time and the last thing we want to do is have any of our public hurt."
Deputies are working with the animals' caregiver, who says the animals were fed on Monday.
They're putting food in the animals' pens in the hopes they might return, where they can then be secured.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol has cordoned off seven square miles near Interstate 70 and officers are using infrared devices to find the animals.
On "GMA" Wedneday ABC News' wildlife expert Jack Hanna said that in controlling this situation human life and animal life must both be considered, as does timing of capture.
"Human life has to come first but that's what we have to look for. We have to take care of our animal life. You cannot tranquilize an animal at night. It's hard enough during the daytime," Hanna said.
Danielle White, one of Thompson's neighbors, said that she saw a loose lion in the area in 2006.
"It's always been a fear of mine knowing [the preserve's owner] had all those animals," she said. "I have kids. I've heard a male lion roar all night."
Thompson has been warned repeatedly over the last decade to get his animals under control – and no less than 30 times in the past year. He was arrested in April of 2005 for cruelty and torture of cattle and bison he had on his property, according to the website pet-abuse.com. He was charged with one count of having an animal at large, two counts of rendering animal waste and one count of cruelty to animals.