Reynoldsburg, Oh-- Ohio officials are clearing the way for the return of five surviving exotic animals to a woman whose husband released dozens of wild creatures last fall, then committed suicide.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced the decision Monday at an agency hearing in which the state was to defend its authority to quarantine the animals - two leopards, two primates and a bear - on suspicion of infectious diseases.
A spokeswoman for the agency said the state had exhausted its authority in the case and that the state's agriculture director would lift the quarantine order that was placed on the animals in October. Medical results released last week showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested.
That means the animals can be returned to Marian Thompson of Zanesville, though it's unclear when that might happen. Logistics for retrieving the animals will have to be worked out between Thompson and the Columbus zoo, which has been holding the five creatures, said agriculture spokesman Erica Pitchford.
Once the animals are returned to Thompson, nothing in Ohio law allows state officials to check in on their wellbeing or requires improvements to conditions in which they are kept, Pitchford said.
"That authority lies solely with the local humane society and county prosecutor," she said. The humane society could intervene with help from the county prosecutor if there was an investigation into animal cruelty.
Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said the facility must follow certain protocols to prepare for the animals to be handed back to Thompson. For instance, she said, the animals must be sedated for the transfer, but they cannot eat or drink for 24 hours before being given the sedative.
Peters said the animals had been fed on Monday, and the earliest they could be moved would be Wednesday. She said other details were being worked out, and she didn't yet have additional information.
Thompson is the widow of Terry Thompson, who released 56 animals - including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers - from his eastern Ohio farm Oct. 18 before he committed suicide. Authorities killed 48 of the animals as a public safety measure.
Three leopards, two primates and a bear survived and were taken to the Columbus zoo. One leopard had to be euthanized at the zoo in January and the other animals have been there since.