The zoo received world-wide attention on October 19, 2011, when dozens of exotic animals were released from their enclosures.Bears, lions, tigers, and wolves were among those who escaped, and were hunted by local law enforcement out of fear for public safety. The animals were killed or captured and taken to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Owner Terry Thompson set free fifty-six of his exotic animals before shooting himself in the head. Forty-eight were killed by the local police. The animals freed included lions, leopards, wolves, primates, bears, and eighteen tigers. The animals confirmed to be dead were the eighteen tigers, six black bears, two grizzlies, two wolves, one macaque monkey, one baboon, three mountain lions, nine male lions, and eight lionesses. Three leopards, one grizzly bear, and two monkeys were left caged inside Thompson's home. These animals were tranquilized and sent to the Columbus Zoo. One of the surviving leopards was subsequently injured in an accident at the zoo and was euthanized. One monkey was eaten by a tiger, and a wolf was killed after being hit by a car.
The animal farm had been repeatedly reported for inadequate and unsafe housing for the animals, as well as insufficient water and food.
Terry Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran, was a lifelong collector of exotic animals. In the years leading up to his suicide he went to prison on federal gun charges, was heavily in debt, and his wife had left him; he may also have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. He had acted as an animal handler on The Rachael Ray Show in 2008, and provided a lion cub to a photoshoot with Heidi Klum.
Jack Hanna, TV wildlife expert and Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, lamented the killings but deemed the police actions necessary. Ohio governor John Kasich called for a temporary moratorium on the sale of exotic animals. In August 2012, Britain's Channel 4 broadcast a documentary on the animal release called 'America's Animal Hoarder: Horror at the Zoo", featuring footage of Thompson's animals and interviews with those who brought the situation under control. Animal Planet released an episode of "Fatal Attractions" on Thompson's conflict and suicide.