After authorities in Ohio made the decision to shoot dozens of exotic animals on the loose after escaping their owner's property, a prominent animal welfare organization and wildlife conservationist are stepping up to defend the move.
Police with assault rifles warned residents to stay in their homes as they stalked a monkey and a wolf still on the loose Wednesday after authorities said their owner apparently freed dozens of wild animals and then killed himself.
Sheriff's deputies shot and killed 49 of the 56 animals that may have been freed. Six were recaptured and taken to a zoo. The last, a monkey thought to be carrying a herpes virus, was found to have been eaten by one of the large cats, the sheriff said late Wednesday.Story: Sheriff defends order to shoot bears, tigers
Karen Minton, Ohio state director for the The Humane Society of the United States, was not on the scene when authorities gave the orders, but she said that it's a difficult call to make.
"We think they did their job," Minton told msnbc.com.
"Everyone's preference" is to take steps to ensure the animals' welfare, but "I certainly respect where law enforcement is coming from" when faced with a situation that poses such a great risk to public safety, she said.
Director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Jack Hanna — known to television audiences for his appearances on programs for the past three decades — said during a Wednesday news conference with authorities that the sheriff was correct to issue the shoot-to-kill order, Columbus NBC station WCMH-TV reported.Vote: Should people be allowed to own exotic animals?
Asked in a separate interview with the TV station about the difficulties of sedating animals, Hanna said, "It's very difficult. Tranquilizing an animal in a proper situation is hard, much less right now — they're out of their confinement, it's new to them." He added that though some of the animals might just be exploring their surroundings, others could be nervous.
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz defended the shootings, saying police had just an hour or so before sundown Tuesday and weren't carrying tranquilizer darts.
Lutz told a news conference Wednesday that it appeared farm owner Terry Thompson had let the animals loose and died of a self-inflicted wound. Police found several aggressive animals near Thompson's body and shot them, and they saw many other animals standing outside their cages or outside the fencing surrounding the property and began shooting them on sight.Video: Hanna: 'A wild animal is like a loaded gun' (on this page)
Local law enforcement agencies are "simply not trained for or equipped to handle" situations in which they need to confront escaped exotic or wild animals, Minton said. "There's no protocol in place," she noted, adding that her organization commends the sheriff's office for reaching out to the Columbus Zoo and local wildlife organizations for assistance.
More than 50 law enforcement officials patrolled the area overnight, concerned about big cats and bears hiding in the dark and in trees.Story: Ohio escape renews call for exotic-animal crackdown
The preserve had Bengal tigers, lions, wolves, and grizzly bears, among others. The animals' cages had been opened and the farm's fences had been left unsecured, police said.
Lutz called the animals mature, very big, and aggressive. "We're not talking about your normal everyday housecat," he said.
There were multiple sightings of exotic animals up to about 10 miles away. "Some sort of cat" was hit and injured on a local highway, Lutz said. Bears and wolves were among those killed.
Even when one 300-pound animal was shot with a tranquilizer dart when animal authorities arrived, the animal "went crazy," ran off and had to be shot, Lutz said.
Lutz said his main concern was protecting the public, especially in closing area schools.
"We didn't want kids standing at a bus stop ... and have these big animals walk by," he said.
Video: Sheriff speaks about loose animals in Ohio (on this page)
Acknowledging the public safety risks in the situation, Minton points to Ohio's lack of regulation — the state has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.
Thompson had permits to keep four black bears, said Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The department licenses only native species, Jones said Wednesday.
Minton contends that because of an animal cruelty conviction on his record, Thompson "almost certainly" would have been prevented from owning his animals if an earlier emergency order issued by the state's governor had not been allowed to expire.
According to the Humane Society, the order, which expired in April, did not allow residents with such criminal records to own exotic animals and would have likely allowed the state to take the animals away earlier this year had it remained in effect.
In the wake of the situation in Ohio, the organization is renewing its appeal to the Ohio officials to pass new animal control regulations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report from msnbc.com.