May 5, 2012 in Nation/World

Animals back on farm

Owner set dozens free, then committed suicide
Ann Sanner Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A bear explores its cage on the farm of Marian Thompson near Zanesville, Ohio, after it and four other exotics were released to Thompson by the Columbus Zoo on Friday.
(Full-size photo)

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Five exotic animals are back on the eastern Ohio farm where they lived months ago before their owner abandoned them and released dozens of other wild animals into the rural community, then killed himself.

The widow of Terry Thompson picked up two leopards, two primates and a bear from the Columbus zoo on Friday and returned them to their former home in Zanesville where 50 animals – including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers – were released Oct. 18.

Authorities killed 48 of the animals, fearing for the public’s safety. Two others were presumed eaten by other animals. The surviving animals were found in cages and placed under quarantine at the zoo. Ohio’s agriculture director lifted the quarantine order Monday, after test results showed all five animals were free of dangerously contagious or infectious diseases.

Thompson’s suicide, the animals’ release, and their killings led lawmakers to re-examine Ohio’s restrictions on exotic pets, which are considered some of the nation’s weakest.

Ohio lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban new ownership of dangerous animals – but grandfather in owners such as Thompson. The bill is on track to pass the Legislature this month.

Should it become law, Marian Thompson would have to register the animals with the state, obtain liability insurance and pay permit fees of at least $1,000 by 2014. She also would have to pass a background check, microchip the animals and meet strict new caretaking standards, including fencing requirements.

For now, Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said there is not much local authorities can do as long as the animals are being cared for properly. “At the first complaint we have, we’ll follow up,” he said.

Thompson arrived at a loading area at the zoo midmorning Friday, driving a pickup truck pulling a silver horse trailer. The two leopards were loaded into crates in the trailer. A forklift loaded a steel cage carrying the bear. In smaller carriers, the monkeys were placed inside the truck cab.

Thompson’s lawyer has told the state’s agriculture department that his client has adequate cages for the surviving animals.

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