COLUMBUS, Ohio The state of Ohio intervened on Thursday to stop six exotic animals from being transferred back to the widow of the man who released them and dozens of other creatures last week shortly before killing himself.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture said it issued a quarantine order for the three leopards, two monkeys and one grizzly bear currently held at the Columbus Zoo, citing concerns "the animals could be infected with disease as a result of the conditions in which they were reportedly held."
Earlier on Thursday, the zoo said it had been notified by attorneys representing Marian Thompson that she planned to collect the six animals and return them to the couple's farm in Zanesville, Ohio.
Thompson arrived at the zoo on Thursday afternoon but left empty-handed.
A spokesman for Ohio Governor John Kasich said: "The governor's biggest concern is not only the threat to the public health of the people of Zanesville but to the animals themselves."
"And we will use whatever tools are at our disposal to protect both the health of the people and the animals."
Last week, Thompson's husband Terry Thompson set his collection of 56 exotic animals free and then committed suicide.
No note was found with Thompson's body. He had been released late last month from a year-long prison sentence for violating federal gun laws.
The release of the lions, tigers, bears and other animals created havoc around Zanesville and forced authorities to shoot dozens of the animals, including 18 Bengal tigers, which are endangered, as well as numerous adult lions.
Of the 56 animals released, 49 were killed and buried on the farm.
The six animals will continue to live at the Columbus Zoo while the Department of Agriculture decides what to do with them.
Dale Schmidt, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, said he was "pleased" with the department's decision. He said zoo officials were concerned about the welfare of the animals.
"They will continue to get the best of care while they are in our custody," Schmidt said.
Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, welcomed Thursday's action by Ohio.
"The sheriff's report shows the animals living in squalid conditions," Pacelle said. "Mr. Thompson had a history of cruelty. There were endless complaints. It would be reckless to allow her to reclaim the animals."
The quarantine will remain in effect indefinitely, officials said. But Thompson can request a legal hearing on the matter within 30 days.
Ohio is one of seven states that does not restrict ownership of such exotic animals. The others are North and South Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia, Nevada and Wisconsin.
Kasich has issued an executive order, asking state agencies to use all available powers to regulate the animals until the legislature passes a law.
(Writing by James B. Kelleher and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton)