- Board concludes animals are free of "dangerously infectious or contagious diseases"
- Officials: Marian Thompson plans to keep two leopards, two monkeys, bear on her Ohio farm
- State officials raise concern about safety of cages, which they aren't allowed to inspect
- "We have the zoo on speed dial" in case of trouble, the sheriff says
The widow of a man who set free 56 exotic animals he owned before apparently committing suicide will get back the five animals that survived, Ohio agriculture officials said Monday.
A state review board concluded Monday that the animals, which have been kept at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, are free of "dangerously infectious or contagious diseases." The finding required them to lift a quarantine imposed in a move last October to delay their return.
State officials said they were concerned that Marian Thompson has said she would put the two spotted leopards, two macaque monkeys and a large brown bear back into the same cages they previously inhabited on her Zanesville, Ohio, farm.
"This raises concerns, as she has indicated the cages have not been repaired, and has repeatedly refused to allow animal welfare experts to evaluate if conditions are safe for the animals and sufficient to prevent them from escaping and endangering the community," said Erica Pitchford, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
State officials have no legal power to inspect the cages before the animals are returned, but they are hoping the local sheriff will seek a court order to inspect the farm "to ensure the safety of the animals and the public," Pitchford said.
Thompson has not allowed local law enforcement onto the farm to check the pens, Muskingum County Sheriff Matthew Lutz told CNN Monday.
Thompson's lawyer did not immediately respond to a CNN call for comment.
Deputies are ready to deal with any problems with the returned animals, Lutz said.
"We have the zoo on speed dial," Lutz said. "If we are pushed to do what we had to do the last time, we would take care of it."
Terry Thompson died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on October 18 shortly after he pried open cages and opened the farm's fences that held his private menagerie of lions, tigers, bears, wolves and monkeys.
Authorities, who did not have access to tranquilizer guns, killed two wolves, six black bears, two grizzly bears, nine male lions, eight female lions, one baboon, three mountain lions and 18 Bengal tigers. One monkey that was unaccounted for might have been eaten by one of the big cats, they speculated.
Thompson's property is about two miles outside Zanesville, which is east of Columbus along Interstate 70. The 62-year-old had been released from a federal prison three weeks earlier after pleading guilty earlier to possessing illegal firearms, including five fully automatic firearms.