Image: A captured leopard at Columbus Zoo
Grahm Jones  /  Columbus Zoo and Aquarium via AP
This photo provided by the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium shows one of three leopards that were captured by authorities Wednesday last week.
updated 10/27/2011 4:28:49 PM ET 2011-10-27T20:28:49

The six surviving exotic animals freed by their suicidal owner in Ohio will be kept under quarantine at a zoo for now instead of going to the man's widow, the state Agriculture Department ordered Thursday.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was trying to stop Marian Thompson from reclaiming three leopards, two primates and a young grizzly bear that have been cared for by the zoo since last week, when Terry Thompson mysteriously set them free in a rural area of eastern Ohio.

The zoo said it took the six surviving animals with Marian Thompson's permission but has no legal rights to them. A private veterinarian for the Agriculture Department looked at the animals and determined they needed to remain separated from the other animals, said Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Gov. John Kasich.

The Agriculture Department said it was concerned about reports that the animals had lived in unsanitary conditions where they could be exposed to disease, and the order provides a chance to investigate their health. It prevents the zoo from releasing them until it's clear they're disease-free.

It appeared Thompson had planned to take them back to the farm near Zanesville, department spokesman Andy Ware said.

Thompson and her lawyer were informed of the order when they arrived at the zoo with a big truck on Thursday afternoon. The order is indefinite, but Thompson is entitled to a hearing within 30 days if she wants to appeal. Her attorney was traveling with her and could not be reached for comment.

Video: Hanna: 'A wild animal is like a loaded gun' (on this page)

The animals have appeared healthy, though perhaps a bit underweight, but the zoo did not conduct its standard medical tests because it doesn't own the creatures, zoo President and CEO Dale Schmidt said.

Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets, and efforts to strengthen the regulations have taken on new urgency since Terry Thompson opened the cages at his farm near Zanesville last week, freeing four dozen animals that were later shot by authorities.

Officers were ordered to kill the animals — including rare Bengal tigers, lions and bears — instead of trying to bring them down with tranquilizers for fear that those hit with darts would escape in the darkness before they dropped and would later regain consciousness.

It's not clear whether Marian Thompson wants to take the surviving animals back to the farm or to an alternate location, said Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz, whose office isn't taking a stance on whether the creatures should return to Zanesville.

Story: Ohio escape renews call for exotic-animal crackdown

"If she wants to bring them back here, to this farm, then we're working on what we're allowed legally to do to make sure that everything is safe and appropriate," Lutz said.

Sam Kopchak, whose property abuts Thompson's, said he has mixed feelings about whether Marian Thompson should get the animals back, because he found himself standing about 30 feet from an escaped lion before it was killed. He said he feels for Thompson and recognizes her loss but would prefer not to have lions and tigers as neighbors.

"I'd rather them not be here after what I experienced because of having the animals being out in the situation we were in," he said Thursday. "And I think most of the neighbors around here would probably say the same thing."

Until earlier this year, Ohio was under an executive order that banned the buying and selling of exotic animals, but the newly elected Kasich let it expire, saying the regulations were not enforceable. He last week put temporary measures in place to crack down on private ownership. A study committee has until Nov. 30 to draft permanent legislation.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Owner’s wife wants exotic animals back

  1. Closed captioning of: Owner’s wife wants exotic animals back

    >> tied to the deadly round-up of dangerous animals in ohio . the six animals who survived are at the columbus zoo . now the owner's widow is fighting to get them back. john yang is with us this morning. good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning. the six exotic animals will stay at the columbus zoo for at least a month. the owner's widow tried to reclaim them, but a last-minute intervention arranged by the governor and the state attorney general blocked her.

    >> reporter: mary anne thompson 's trailer pulls away without the animals she calls her children. the animals are under quarantine following orders from the ohio department of ago culture. the indefinite quarantine will allow an opportunity to conduct a full and appropriate investigation as to the health status of these animals.

    >> praise god. that's an answer to prayer. i know she thinks they are her pets and stuff. they're not like cats and dogs .

    >> reporter: jack hannah said the animals are exactly where they need to be.

    >> i know what the conditions were. you wouldn't want to see it. the animals aren't leaving the zoo and that's the right decision. what's right is right. what's wrong is wrong. this is right.

    >> reporter: thompson wants the animals she said she owns back. last week her husband terry thompson released more than 50 exotic animals from his property in rural ohio and killed himself . within minutes calls began pouring into 911.

    >> yeah, there's a lion on mount perry road.

    >> i'm pretty sure i just saw a wolf.

    >> we live next to terry thompson and there is a bear and a lion out.

    >> reporter: the sheriff's department cautioned people to stay indoors. deputies shot and killed four dozen animals prompting public outrage from animal rights activists who called for stricter laws in ohio regulating ownership of exotic animals. this is a case hannah calls one of the worst he's ever seen.

    >> do you think i will send those animals back to that situation? i'm not going to unless somebody drags me out there and throws me in jail. this will go down in my memories like september 11th went down. this is the september 11th of the animal world .

    >> reporter: thompson had a brief visit with the animals. the quarantine is indefinite. she will have 30 dais to file an appeal and get a hearing. we tried to ask her and her attorneys what her plans were but not no response. ann?

    >> john, thanks for your reporting.

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