ZANESVILLE, Ohio (Times-Recorder) -- Ohio officials put a quarantine Thursday on six animals that survived last week after their owner opened the cages of more than 50 dangerous animals and committed suicide.
The quarantine, issued by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, blocks the animals' release to Marian Thompson, the widow of owner Terry Thompson.
She told officials at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, where the animals have been housed since Oct. 19, that she would be reclaiming the three leopards, two macaque monkeys and a young grizzly bear on Thursday afternoon. A livestock trailer pulled into the zoo's warehouse area around 2 p.m. as she arrived to take them.
But she left empty-handed about an hour later, after learning about the quarantine order.
"She feels these animals belong to her and she wants to exercise her rights," zoo CEO Dale Schmidt said.
The zoo wants to keep them there, where officials said they were being well cared for by professional staff.
The six exotic animals were the only ones to survive a bizarre episode Oct. 18 that had lions, tigers and bears climbing over fences on Terry Thompson's 73-acre farm about 55 miles east of Columbus, Ohio, as dusk approached.
In the next 18 hours or so, Muskingum County deputies say they were forced to shoot 48 wild animals -- including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, eight bears and three mountain lions -- that they considered a threat to public safety. One monkey remains missing and is presumed eaten; another was found half eaten on the Thompsons' farm.
Columbus Zoo has no legal rights to the surviving animals and removed them from the Thompsons' farm with the permission of Marian Thompson, Schmidt said.
Agriculture Department Director James Zehringer issued the quarantine order shortly before Thompson arrived at the zoo Thursday afternoon. The order was issued because of the possibility the animals could be infected with a disease, according to a news release from Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
The news that the animals were staying put for the time being was met with relief from people who live near the Thompson farm.
"We were home and heard all the gunshots," neighbor Linda Polk said. "I hope we never have to hear that again. Three of the animals were shot by our driveway. We've went through enough."
Sam Kopchak, who also lives nearby, sympathizes with Thompson but still doesn't want to see the animals returned.
"I have mixed feelings about it," he said. "I understand her love of animals, but they should not be in a residential area. I was 35 feet away from an African lion with my horse, so I'm not happy with it."
Kopchak and other neighbors described the atmosphere as deputies shot and killed the released animals as being like a war zone.
"The kids and grandkids were scared about what was going on," said Marge Dodson, who said a wolf was killed in her field. "I never realized that many animals were there, but this is not the place for them."
Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said he thinks the state made the right call ordering the animals to remain at the zoo.
"Right now it's the best thing for our community," he said. "I think it's the best thing for the animals. We just don't want this to happen again -- on any level."
Thompson has 30 days to appeal the state's decision.
Zoo officials said she visited the animals Thursday, accompanied by one of her attorneys and several others who were there to help move the animals.
Schmidt, the zoo CEO, said that after discussions between the zoo, state officials, Kasich's office and the Muskingum County Sheriff's Office, it was determined the animals should remain under observation, care and testing at the zoo for an indefinite period to allow for a "full and appropriate investigation of the health status of the animals, until they (the Ohio Department of Agriculture) tell us to release them."
Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Kasich, said the quarantine order wasn't issued sooner simply because no one foresaw Thompson hiring counsel to fight for custody of the animals.
It is imperative to public health that they not be released, he said.
"These animals obviously lived in deplorable conditions," he said. "Their release could be a threat to public health."
Zanesville, Ohio Times-Recorder