By Jim Leckrone
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - Lions, bears and wolves were among the animals found running loose on Tuesday in Ohio, where the owner of an exotic animal farm was found dead on his property, police said.
Sheriff's deputies found about 48 dangerous animals running loose on the farm near the east-central Ohio town of Zanesville, and shot dead about 25 of them, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz told a news conference.
The owner of the farm, Terry Thompson, was found dead on the ground when authorities went to the site to check on him following reports of wild animals running free in the area.
Lutz described the animals found as "mature, very big and aggressive." The farm was home to a plethora of species including grizzly bears, black bears, lions, tigers and cheetahs.
Police were warning residents in the area to stay inside to keep safe, and area schools were ordered closed for Wednesday as a precaution. So far, no members of the public were known to have been hurt or killed by the animals.
There was no immediate word on how the farm's owner died, and Lutz said the police work so far has focused on securing the area around the farm, near Interstate 70 about a mile west of the city limits of Zanesville, and making sure the animals were taken care of.
Deputies, their search efforts hampered by heavy rain, were combing the area for any animals still missing, and the sheriff has ordered any spotted by his deputies be shot on sight.
Veterinarians from the Columbus Zoo, and from The Wilds, which is located about 20 miles away, were standing by to offer assistance if needed. The Wilds is North America's largest Conservation Facility for Endangered Species.
Jack Hanna, the well-known Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, was also offering the sheriff any help he could arrange. He said personnel from The Wilds were called in years ago to help local officials over complaints from neighbors about the wild exotic animal farm.
Lutz said authorities were searching for the animals from their vehicles and were not walking through the heavily wooded rugged area. He said his office was also relying on neighbors and citizens in the area to report any animals they see.
Officials in Zanesville and the West Muskingum Local School district have said schools would be closed on Wednesday, while officials in other districts have said schools would close or were considering delaying opening hours.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)