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Widow of man who freed exotic animals to survivors back Friday

By Jesse Solomon and Alan Duke, CNN
updated 10:40 PM EDT, Thu May 3, 2012
This spotted leopard is among the animals the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will return to a farm in Zanesville, Ohio.
This spotted leopard is among the animals the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will return to a farm in Zanesville, Ohio.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two spotted leopards, two Macaque monkeys and a brown bear will be returned to widow
  • Terry Thompson set off scare when he released 50 wild animals from his farm
  • After releasing tigers, lions and other animals, the Ohio farmer shot himself
  • State officials have no legal power to inspect cages where the five animals will be kept

(CNN) -- Five exotic animals once owned by a Zanesville, Ohio, man who let loose dozens of animals last year before committing suicide will be returned to the man's widow Friday, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said.

Two spotted leopards, two Macaque monkeys and a brown bear will be returned to Marian Thompson, widow of farmer Terry Thompson. He set off a wide scare in October when he released 50 potentially dangerous animals from his farm before shooting himself.

Of the 50 animals Thompson released, 48 were killed by law enforcement, while two primates were killed by the other animals, zoo officials said.

Last fall in Ohio: Wild animals on the loose

The five animals being returned to Marian Thompson were never released from their cages by her late husband. A sixth unreleased animal, a leopard, died in January at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, where all of Thompson's remaining animals had been housed for safekeeping since the incident.

A state review board concluded Monday that the animals are free of "dangerously infectious or contagious diseases." The finding required officials to lift a quarantine imposed in a move in October to delay their return.

Widow to reclaim exotic pets in Ohio

State officials said they were concerned that Marian Thompson has said she would put the five remaining animals into the same cages they previously inhabited on her Zanesville 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 had 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."

Legislation that would tighten rules regarding private ownership of exotic animals passed the Ohio Senate in April and is now being heard in the House of Representatives. "Zoo officials encourage lawmakers to pass a bill quickly to ensure public safety and protect the welfare of animals," the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium said in a news release.

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, three mountain lions and 18 Bengal tigers.

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.

CNN's John Fricke and Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.

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