COLUMBUS, Ohio — State and federal regulators have inspected a potential new home for six creatures kept at the Columbus zoo since their suicidal owner released dozens of exotic animals that were subsequently killed by authorities, according to public records obtained by The Associated Press.
Three leopards, two primates and a grizzly bear that survived the October hunt near Zanesville are being cared for at the zoo under a state-issued quarantine order. It's unclear where they'll end up if the order is lifted and they're returned to the owner's widow.
"We kind of know that's coming, but right now we're kind of just focused on making sure that the animals are healthy," said Erica Pitchford, an Ohio Department of Agriculture spokeswoman.
Terry Thompson freed bears, lions, endangered Bengal tigers and other animals on Oct. 18 before killing himself. Emails sent by state officials show they initially believed Marian Thompson planned to take the surviving animals to Stump Hill Farm near Massillon in northeast Ohio, which cares for and exhibits native and exotic animals ranging from tigers to coyotes to parrots.
In anticipation of that move, regulators visited the 8-acre farm on Oct. 24 and asked it to address several problems, including needed repairs on animal enclosures and perches and gaps below gates in the perimeter fencing, according to inspection records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which enforces the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Cyndi Huntsman, who operates Stump Hill with her family, said she knew the Thompsons for years, had cared for some of their animals at her farm and had helped rebuild cages and clean up the Thompson property three years ago. She said she had offered to take the surviving animals in October, but Marian Thompson decided she'd rather take them back to Zanesville instead.
Huntsman said her farm has made repairs and changes to address regulators' concerns and she's open to taking the animals if Thompson changes her mind.
"That's entirely up to her," Huntsman said Monday night. "I just offered our services."
The zoo said it initially had Marian Thompson's permission to care for the animals, which were kept separate from other animals, but has no legal rights to them.
On Oct. 27, the state ordered that the animals be held under quarantine at the zoo amid officials' concerns about reports that the creatures may have been kept in unsanitary conditions and exposed to disease.
The order prevents the animals from being released until it's clear they're free of dangerous diseases. Officials said they have been trying to determine whether the animals are healthy enough to be tested and strong enough to survive if they are anesthetized to have blood drawn. The Ohio Department of Agriculture has said the animals' health has improved, and it tentatively planned to begin the testing Dec. 15.
Marian Thompson appealed the quarantine order, but lawyers on both sides have not set a date for a hearing. Her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The release and killings of four dozen animals from the Thompson property focused attention on Ohio's exotic pet restrictions, which are among the weakest in the nation, and a study committee and state agencies have outlined a framework for possible new rules.
A group of animal owners is objecting to a recommended ban on ownership of venomous snakes, monkeys and other dangerous animals by 2014, arguing that federally licensed facilities shouldn't fall under the prohibition.
Huntsman, the Stump Hill owner, said the proposed regulations would significantly limit educational programs and other activities that the federally licensed nonprofit farm uses to raise money to keep operating.
Kantele Franko can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/kantele10 .