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COLUMBUS, Ohio - In the wake of the exotic animal escape this week in Zanesville, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order on wild animals Friday afternoon.
During Tuesday night and most of the day on Wednesday, Muskingum County authorities, with the help of animals experts, tracked down and killed nearly 50 animals. The Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said the owner of the exotic animal farm, Terry Thompson, freed the animals before killing himself.
Ohio has some of the weakest exotic animal laws in the country. The Humane Society of the United States criticized the governor for allowed a ban on buying and selling the animals to expire in April.
"Today, I am able to sign an executive order that will have teeth," Kasich said. The governor said that there had been complaints against Thompson's farm since 2004.
The governor and his staff said they are going over inspections of similar facilities, and work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One Kasich staff member said "We're going to work fast, but we're going to work smart." They said the last thing they want to do is introduce a law that could create another one of these dangerous situations.
"We're still trying to figure out the last time this guy was issued a permit," Kasich "We want them to go out and inspect those animal-holder… We don't have the ability to track down and inspect these people who have animals that aren't native to Ohio."
"We frankly don't know where they're at. We don't know," Kasich said. During the news conference, he also emphasized the importance of zoos that keep the confiscated animals.
The governor said one man, who holds exotic animal auctions in Ohio, has agreed to stop the auctions for the next 90 days while the state reviews the issue.
Among the animals killed were 18 endangered Bengal tigers, 17 lions, two grizzly bears and six brown bears. Wednesday night, authorities called off the search for the last unaccounted for animal: a monkey that may have been infected with herpes. Officials said they believed the monkey was eaten by one of the escaped big cats. The surviving six of the animals were taken to the Columbus Zoo, while the deceased were buried on Thompson's property.
Animal activist and former director of the Columbus Zoo Jack Hanna was on-hand during the nighttime search for the animals, but was unable to makes Friday's news conference. His wife, Suzi, spoke about how emotional and how dangerous the situation was.
"That image will be with him forever," Suzi Hanna said. "He said the tears just came down his face, when he saw these magnificent lions and tigers."
Schools were closed during the hunt and signs along the highway warned drivers to stay in their vehicles. No one was attacked by the animals.
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