Columbus Zoo Returned Animals To Zanesville Woman

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Marian Thompson (pink shirt) leans into the crate that holds a brown bear that was released last fall by her deceased husband. The man freed 50 exotic animals before committing suicide. The zoo returned the animals to Thompson after a quarantine was lifted.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)
Marian Thompson (pink shirt) leans into the crate that holds a brown bear that was released last fall by her deceased husband. The man freed 50 exotic animals before committing suicide. The zoo returned the animals to Thompson after a quarantine was lifted.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)

Five exotic animals were back in Zanesville Friday evening after a quarantine was lifted. The animals were freed last October along with dozens of others before their owner committed suicide. The Columbus Zoo was caring for the animals before the owner’s widow regained custody.

Marion Thompson arrived at the Columbus Zoo in a large red truck pulling a long, steel trailer.

Waiting just beyond the fence were zoo workers, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and the animals: two leopards, two primates and a brown bear.

One of the leopards growled as its cage was hoisted into the trailer. A fork lift had to be used for the bear.

Thompson greeted each animal, peering into the crates.

“We feel like we’re losing one of our family,” Columbus Zoo President and Chief Executive Officer Dale Schmidt said. “They’re going off to somewhere where we’ll never see them again, and we’re concerned for their welfare.”

The zoo’s Chief Operating Officer Tom Stalf said the conditions at the Thompson farm last fall were unacceptable.

“Not only was the area not clean, feces and mud and debris and the lack of shelter, but the space wasn’t appropriate and nothing for enrichment. These animals were in very small holding areas and didn’t have much of a life,” Stalf said.

The USDA also was interested in the animals’ welfare. Schmidt said agents requested to be at the exchange.

“They want to find out where they’re going to go,” he said.

USDA representatives followed Thompson as she and the animals left the zoo. But Schmidt said they have no legal grounds to inspect her private farm.

Most of the 50 or so exotic animals released from the farm last fall were shot and killed by Muskingum County Sheriff’s Deputies before they could be captured.

While Sheriff Matt Lutz said no one has called his office to complain about the animals’ return, he does not expect most area residents are pleased about it.

“I think our community feels very blessed and very lucky that we were fortunate enough that nobody got hurt out of the last incident. And I think the majority of the public does not want them back in our county,” Lutz said.

The sheriff said his office will monitor any complaints about the farm.

Schmidt said he blames the state officials for the animals’ current position.

“For not having a law in place prior to this that says you have to have certain standards and you have to follow certain guidelines,” Schmidt said.

State legislators now are considering a bill to restrict the ownership of exotic animals beginning in 2014.

Thompson did not speak to reporters. And it’s unknown if she will repay the zoo the $120,000 it has spent caring for them.

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