ZANESVILLE, Ohio - A monkey that may have a virus dangerous to humans was the last animal that Muskingum County authorities were searching for.
Forty-nine exotic animals have been already killed after they were set free from a wild-animal preserve by their owner. Deputies continued their armed search for the monkey in the pouring rain as daylight hours began to run out on Wednesday. Later, Sheriff Matt Lutz announced he believes the monkey may have been eaten by one of the big cats.
The monkey may have a virus known as "herpes B, an infection "that can result in severe neurologic impairment or fatal encephalomyelitis if the patient was not treated soon after exposure," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Of the 49 animals killed, 18 were Bengal tigers, a number that stunned animal expert Jack Hanna, formerly with the Columbus Zoo.
"What was done had to be done," Hanna said. "It was a tragedy beyond belief. Emotional." Hanna said 18 Bengal tigers at a rural exotic animal farm is extraordinary as there are only 1,400 left in the wild.
Lutz confirmed the dead animals, which also included bears, baboons, lions and wolves were buried on the 73-acre farm where they lived.
“We had some people try to steal a lion last night, a dead lion," Lutz said, adding that's part of the reason they were buried. “We don’t go to the academy and get trained on how to handle 300-pound lions."
The property will be turned back over to the wife of the man who owned the complex. Lutz said the body of Terry Thompson was found by deputies in the driveway of the preserve, after Thompson left the cages open and fences unsecured. It appeared Thompson killed himself, but that will not be confirmed until the autopsy and toxicology results are complete. Lutz said there is no known suicide note and Thompson's widow is wracked with grief.
The sheriff said none of the 49 animals killed got past 500 yards of the property.
The next news conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday, provided there are no other late-breaking developments before then.
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