Lions, tigers and bears have rampaged a US town after escaping an Animal Farm, where the owner was found dead.

Almost 50 animals, including cheetahs and other fierce cats, have been reported wandering around the rural Ohio town of Zanesville.

Schools have been ordered to close and residents have been warned to stay indoors as police officers try to bring them under control, with the help of staff from the Columbus Zoo and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The police department has been fielding panicked calls from people who had spotted the beasts roaming on a nearby highway.

They animals were discovered shortly after the owner of Muskingum County Animal Farm, Terry Thompson, 62, was found dead and the cages unlocked.

Thompson had been released from prison three weeks earlier after serving a one-year term for firearms charges, according to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper.

His 40-acre preserve housed large cats, various bears, wolves, giraffes and camels, as well as orangutans and cheetahs, still in their cages. Police shot some animals as they arrived at the farm.

All 48 of the large animals on the grounds were thought to have escaped, said Sheriff Matt Lutz

“We’ve got a little bit of a list compiled. Mainly, there were grizzly bears and black bears there. There were cheetahs, there were lions, and there were tigers.

“These were the primary things that we would be concerned with. Any kind of a cat species and any kind of a bear species right now is what we’re mainly concerned with.

“One of the deputies told me they felt they had shot approximately 25 on the way up to the house to check on Mr Thompson.

“So, you know, that number could be high or low, depending. You know, when they’re shooting animals in all directions, it’s hard to keep track.”

There have been no reports of any injuries

Kate Riley, 20, whose family owns a nearby cattle farm, said Thompson would come and take their dead cows to feed his lions.

“He’d have claw marks all over him,” she said, adding that she believed Thompson’s wife had recently left him and moved out.