ZANESVILLE, Ohio (Reuters) - The collector of bears, lions and dozens of exotic animals who freed them in Ohio before killing himself, kept the creatures in small pens and fed his lions meat from malnourished horses, an animal welfare expert who knew him said on Wednesday.
"When he was charged with animal neglect there were complaints that he wasn't feeding his horses enough, and then when they would die he would feed them to the lions," said Larry Hostetler, executive director of the Muskingum County Animal Shelter.
"We've been trying to get him shut down since 2003," Hostetler said, adding that authorities had made several visits to Terry Thompson's farm since 2004 and found underfed animals with open sores.
Thompson, 61, was found dead at the farm from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Sheriff's deputies shot and killed most of the 50-odd lions, tigers, bears, and other big animals he set loose from their pens. A monkey was still at large, the Muskingum County Sheriff said.
Thompson was released last month from federal prison on a firearms conviction -- agents raided his farm in June 2008 and found 133 guns. Court documents showed that he told an informant he dealt guns illegally after giving up his dealing license five years earlier.
Thompson's wife cared for the animals during his absence, Hostetler said.
Thompson, who Hostetler said lived off inherited money, liked to show off the animals he collected at his 50-acre farm, an inventory that at various points included camels, a giraffe, lions, tigers, and panthers, Hostetler said. But he never entertained visitors or schoolchildren.
"The more exotic, the more he was interested in them," Hostetler said.
In 2007, Hostetler spotted Thompson and a few of his tiger cubs on the Internet participating in a photo shoot with model Heidi Klum. Hostetler called Klum's managers and suggested they be more careful about animal trainers they use.
Thompson had been ejected several times from annual pet fairs in Zanesville because he would bring cuddly-looking bear cubs that would snarl and growl at visitors, Hostetler said. Thompson bred animals on the farm.
"These animals were not socialized, and they were not tame enough to be around the public and he had to be removed from the property," he said.
"He has hired people off and on, but they usually didn't last very long. The animals were not fed properly, they didn't receive proper medical care, their pens were less than desired, I guess you could say. It was enough to be within the law," he said.
"It's very sad," he added.
(Reporting by Jim Leckrone; Writing and reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Doina Chiacu)