Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Terry W. Thompson(1) Animals at large

Zanesville, OH

Muskingum County

December 1, 2004  
Terry W. Thompson(2) Cruelty to animals, 3 dead cows & a bison found dead

Zanesville, OH

Muskingum County

March 22, 2005  
Terry W. Thompson(3) Animals at large, property damage

Zanesville, OH

Muskingum County

October 26, 2006  
Terry W. Thompson(4) Horses at large

Zanesville, OH

Muskingum County

July 15, 2007  
Terry W. Thompson(5) Animals at large, unsanitary conditions, inadequate fencing & cages, poor diets, malnutrition

Zanesville, OH

Muskingum County

January 5, 2008  
Terry W. Thompson(6) Animal at large

Zanesville, OH

Muskingum County

February 6, 2009  
Terry W. Thompson, 62(7) released 56 exotic animals, 48 dangerous animals killed by Sheriff's Department

Zanesville, OH

Muskingum County

October 18, 2011  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
Misdemeanors served 1 year in federal prison for possessing unregistered gun September 2010 to September 2011

(2) 3 cows, 1 bison

(4) horses

(7) 56 exotic animals including lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels & bears

(1)Convicted fined, animals to be removed within 20 days, sentenced to 30 days in jail, suspended

(2)Convicted, 90 days in jail

(3)plead no contest, fined, must pay restitution for damages

(4)plead no contest, fined, must have no further violations


(6)plead no contest, fined must have no further violations for 5 years

(7)Not charged


An Ohio man who set dozens of dangerous animals loose before apparently killing himself was no stranger to police, who had received numerous complaints about the exotic wildlife housed on his farm.
Muskingum County Animal Farm owner Terry Thompson left the cages open and the fences unsecured releasing lions, tigers, bears and wolves, before committing suicide, said Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz.

Sheriff Lutz announced that of the 56 animals dealt with, 48 were put down. They included 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, 8 bears and 1 wolf, Sheriff Lutz said. Six animals were captured alive and taken to the Columbus Zoo.

Photo courtesy of Chris Crook/Zanesville Times Recorder In this August 2008 photo, Terry Thompson stands with some of his award-winning Percheron horses on his farm.

Late the following day, all animals were accounted for except one monkey.
Authorities would not say how Thompson killed himself and no suicide note was found. Sheriff Lutz wouldn't speculate on why he committed suicide. But Thompson had had repeated run-ins with the law, and Sheriff Lutz said the sheriff's office had received multiple complaints since 2004 about animals at the property. Thompson had gotten out of federal prison just last month after pleading guilty to possessing unregistered guns.
"This is a bad situation," the sheriff said. "It's been a situation for a long time."

Sheriff Lutz said they were still awaiting the autopsy reports on Thompson's death. He also mentioned that Thompson's widow was at the scene and has been cooperative.
Neighbor Danielle White, whose father's property abuts the Muskingum County Animal Farm, said she didn't see loose animals this time but did in 2006, when a lion escaped.
"It's always been a fear of mine knowing (the owner) had all those animals," she said. "I have kids. I've heard a male lion roar all night."

White said Thompson had been in legal trouble, and police said he had gotten out of jail recently. "He was in hot water because of the animals, because of permits, and (the animals) escaping all the time," White said. A few weeks ago, she said, she had to avoid some camels which were grazing on the side of a freeway.

Schools closed, parents were warned to keep children and pets indoors and flashing signs along highways told motorists, "Caution exotic animals" and "Stay in vehicle." "It's like Noah's ark, like, wrecking right here in Zanesville, Ohio," said Jack Hanna, former director of the Columbus Zoo. "Noah's ark filled with tigers and lions and all leopards and a few monkeys and whatever, and it crashes here and all of a sudden they're out there."

The preserve in Zanesville had lions, tigers, cheetahs, wolves, giraffes, camels and bears. Sheriff Lutz called the animals "mature, very big, aggressive" but said a caretaker told authorities they had been fed on October 17th..

At a nearby Moose Lodge, Bill Weiser remembered Thompson as an interesting character who flew planes, raced boats and owned a custom motorcycle shop that also sold guns. "He was pretty unique," Weiser said. "He had a different slant on things. I never knew him to hurt anybody, and he took good care of the animals." Weiser said he regretted that the escaped animals had to be killed. "It's breaking my heart, them shooting those animals," he said.

Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them. In 2010, an animal caretaker was killed by a bear at a property in Cleveland.
On October 19th, the Humane Society of the United States criticized Gov. John Kasich for allowing a statewide ban on the buying and selling of exotic pets to expire in April. The organization urged the state to immediately issue emergency restrictions. "How many incidents must we catalog before the state takes action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals?" Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO, said in a statement.

Photo courtesy of Heather Ellers & Dustin Burton/Associated Press. A dead lion lays by the fence on Thompson's farm.

Photo courtesy of Tony Dejak/Associated Press. Investigators walk around a barn as carcasses lay on the ground at the Thompson's farm.

Update 10/20/11:
Who was the man with the animals?
Terry W. Thompson professed to love the exotic animals he accumulated and bred over three decades on his self-styled animal preserve.

Yet, shortly before 5 pm. on Tuesday,October 18th, he set his menagerie free who scattered into the Muskingum County countryside.

Thompson then killed himself with a gunshot. But death didn't end with his own. Authorities say the 62-year-old doomed his animals by liberating them from their pens.

Sheriff Matt Lutz said deputies had no choice but to shoot to kill with rifles, and even handguns at close range, because of the size and aggressiveness of the cats and bears.

Why Thompson ended his life, dispatched 49 animals to their deaths, will be explored as investigators dig into the bizarre incident that sickened animal lovers across the country and prompted calls for reform of exotic-animal ownership laws.

Those who knew him said Thompson could be a bit of a character and a recluse, a man who "was always willing to push the envelope a bit," Sheriff Lutz said.

Thompson was a Vietnam veteran, a businessman, an admirer of vintage firearms, a pilot, a convicted felon and a collector of things of beauty seldom seen outside their native habitats and zoos.

The man who lived on a 46-acre spread west of Zanesville said his life was all about the animals he loved and nurtured. He proudly said he never sought to make a penny of profit off their captivity. "I don't let my animals run loose," Thompson said last year. "I'm not going to put anyone else, including myself and my wife, in danger or put my animals at risk.

"I have them because I love them and am willing to do whatever I have to to take care of them. I have seven veterinarians on call at any time ... I don't use animals for commerce, so I'm under no regulations like a zoo. But I make sure my animals aren't a threat to the community, either."

Thompson said he had been raising exotic animals since 1977, when be bought a lion cub, Simba, for his wife's birthday. He said his animals were relaxed and loved and well cared for.

But Thompson was convicted of cruelty to animals in 2005 when 3 dead cows and a bison were found on another property he owned. And yesterday, Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, described Thompson's farm as "horrific and absolutely filthy."

Thompson disrupted a county pet fair in 2007 by bringing animals others called unfriendly. But he also made sure young cats were declawed so they could visit sick youngsters who wanted to pet a lion or tiger cub.

The former gun dealer returned home three weeks ago after serving a year in prison for federal firearms violations. Federal agents said he had an illegal collection of automatic weapons and sawed-off rifles and shotguns.

He and his wife, Marian, apparently grew estranged while he was away. Authorities summoned Mrs. Thompson to her longtime home, where she assisted in the recovery of small animals and asked authorities not to take her "babies." "I held her, I felt her shock. Her animals are gone. Her family is gone. Everything in her life is gone," Hanna said.

Thompson tried to pick up a few bucks selling motorcycles and scooters from his property, but records suggest he was not good with money. He and his wife owed thousands of dollars in unpaid debts, and the IRS was demanding payment for nearly $56,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties.

A somber Steve Addis, 46, of Zanesville, Marian's brother, said he was frustrated by news media coverage of his brother-in-law's death. He called Thompson "the most intelligent and giving man I've ever met. He'd give you the shirt off his back."

He said Thompson could fly a helicopter or jet, played musical instruments and even set a world speed record one year in California with his drag boat. Thompson owned several small aircraft over the years, taking off and landing on a small grass strip on his property.

Addis said Thompson was misunderstood. "People were afraid of him because he was different. But he had a big heart," he said. "People keep talking about these animals -- a man lost his life here."

It began with a typical walk to the barn on Tuesday, October 18th. Sam Kopchak Jr. was heading to the small pasture on his property to bring in his horse for the night when he noticed horses on the adjoining property running as though they were scared. Then his own horse became skittish.

First he spied what he figured was the cause of the horses' distress: a lone black bear in the neighboring field. He calmed his own horse and said he wasn't terribly concerned because the black bear was pretty far away. Then he saw a huge male lion about 30 feet away on the other side of the simple wire fence that divided his property from his neighbor's.

Kopchak, 64, said he carefully -- but quickly -- led his horse toward the barn. As he stepped inside, he looked back. That's when he saw a tiger chasing the horses next door and a lioness pacing the fence line. Kopchak slammed the barn door shut, pulled out his cellphone and called his mother. "I told her, 'We've got a serious problem. Call 911. All the animals are out.' "

More than 50 exotic animals, from bears and tigers to lions, wolves and monkeys, had been released from the cages where they were kept by Kopchak's neighbor, 62-year-old Terry W. Thompson. The 46-acre farm that Thompson owned is in a well-populated part of Muskingum County, just outside Zanesville and bordering I-70.

The Humane Society of the United States said yesterday that it was the largest escape of animals ever in the United States. The second-largest, in 1995, was when 19 lions and other large cats were killed and 27 captured after they broke free from a compound in Pocatello, Idaho.

Muskingum County deputies who responded to Thompson's home were unprepared for the horde of exotic beasts loping across the grounds on the Kopchak Road property, Sheriff Matt Lutz said. The road is named for Sam Kopchak's family, a testament to how long members have lived there.

Sheriff Lutz described the first few moments as "hand-to-hand combat," as deputies fired on wild animals at close range with handguns in an effort to keep them on the property and away from the general public, even as they called for backup officers with assault rifles.

Deputies with rifles clambered into the back of pickup trucks and drove onto the property, firing at animals as they went.

They found Thompson's body in the driveway by the house, and every animal cage near the home had been left open and damaged to prevent authorities from returning the animals to them.

"It's like Noah wrecking his ark right here in Zanesville, Ohio," said Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, after surveying the scene yesterday with a team of zoo animal handlers."I couldn't create a script like this. I'm upset. I still can't believe it. I've never seen anything like it."

In the end, 49 animals were killed. Among them were 18 Bengal tigers, which are endangered. "I'm still in disbelief," Hanna said of the loss. "What do you say when you have 18 Bengal tigers?" He said there are fewer than 1,400 of the tigers left in the world. "Probably in 20 years, the Bengal tiger will be gone in the wild," Hanna said.

Six animals -- a grizzly bear, 3 leopards and 2 monkeys -- had never left in their cages and were successfully captured by Hanna's staff and taken to the Columbus Zoo for safekeeping.

One animal -- a monkey -- remained unaccounted for late last night, but Sheriff Lutz said it is possible it was eaten by one of the large cats.

Neighbors said the shooting quickly turned the quiet country lane into a war zone.

Jerry Bradley, who lives nearby, said he heard at least 350 shots from his back porch Tuesday night. "It was like a battleground out there," he said.

And yet, even with such disruption, some residents weren't shocked. When asked if he was worried about standing outside with the animals loose, resident Max Purdue simply replied, "We've had them loose before."

Thompson has been cited 9 times over the years for allowing animals at large, and Sheriff Lutz said his office has responded to complaints about the farm's wildlife more than 30 times since 2004.

Despite the danger posed by large animals running wild in the community, some neighbors defended Thompson. "He was a really nice guy," said Diane McElfresh, who lives on Kopchak Road just down the hill from the exotic-animal farm. "I've never been worried about the animals getting out."

She said Thompson loved the animals he kept and treated them more like his children than pets. "You're going to hear some crazy things about him, and some of them are probably true," she said. "But he never did anything wrong to us."

The escape has renewed calls for stricter regulations when it comes to owning exotic animals. And though other wild-animal owners in the state agree that there needs to be better regulation, some fear that the fallout from this situation could catch them in the crosshairs.

Mike Stapleton, owner of a 2-acre wildlife sanctuary in Marion County, said no amount of regulation could have stopped someone such as Thompson from letting his animals go once he decided to take his own life. "I agree that there needs to be some legislation to control who gets these animals, but not a ban," he said. He said outlawing ownership of exotic animals would only drive the owners underground to keep such animals illegally, making the situation worse.

Still, something has to be done, Sheriff Lutz and Hanna said. Hanna called the situation tragic, but he defended Sheriff Lutz and his deputies' immediate and deadly response. Both Hanna and the sheriff called on lawmakers to take immediate steps to make sure nothing like this happens again.

Thompson and his wife, Marian, reportedly had separated, and she was living several hours away when Tuesday's chaos occurred.

Yesterday, she returned to their property and talked to authorities. Hanna said Marian Thompson begged authorities not to take her "babies," but he persuaded her to let the living animals go. The animals that were killed were buried on Thompson's property.

Gov. John Kasich and his aides spent much of October 19th explaining why he allowed an executive order to lapse that could have forced Terry W. Thompson to give up his private menagerie. "If there's some way I could've prevented it, I would," Kasich said. "But what we have to do is move forward and make sure we can clearly limit anything like this in the future."

But Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States, said the Zanesville animal situation could have been prevented had Kasich extended and enforced an exotic-animals ban signed by former Gov. Ted Strickland just before leaving office in January. The ban was the last component of an animal-welfare deal worked out by Strickland, the Humane Society, Ohio Farm Bureau and others.

Bill Damschroder, chief legal counsel for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources -- the agency that would have enforced the animal order -- said he determined that it "exceeded the agency's authority." Damschroder said legislation was not in place that empowered the agency to do the things required by Strickland's order. In addition, it allocated no resources for statewide enforcement.

But others questioned the Kasich administration's reasoning.

Dan Kobil, a constitutional-law expert at Capital University, said decisions by the Ohio Supreme Court indicate that it is "at least strongly arguable that the governor has authority to issue an executive order to direct the ODNR to make rules protecting the state's property ... from exotic animals."

Under Ohio law, the governor is granted broad executive authority, including the power to issue executive orders. The only apparent limitation in the Ohio Revised Code concerns action that would violate antitrust laws.

Ohio governors have used their wide-ranging authority in numerous ways over the years. Kasich himself recently used his executive authority to spare the life of condemned killer Joseph Murphy of Marion and to authorize thousands of electronic slot machines for Ohio horse-race tracks.

Strickland's order did not ban ownership overall but required owners to register exotic animals with the state by May 1, 2011. It also prohibited anyone "convicted of an offense involving the abuse or neglect of any animal pursuant to any state, local, or federal law" from owning exotic animals.

Thompson had an animal-cruelty and two other related convictions in 2005.

Gov. Strickland said his order was "a common-sense compromise ... We tried to be fair in certain grandfather provisions. But someone with a record like this man was not intended to have these animals. "What's happened is tragic and unfortunate. I don't know why the order wasn't extended. ... Maybe we can learn from this incident and hope this doesn't happen in the future."

Janetta King, who was Strickland's policy director, disputed the claim that the executive order was unenforceable, saying state law specifically gives the ODNR "very broad authority to regulate wild animals." "No one challenged this at the time, so it's interesting we're just hearing this objection now -- conveniently," King said.

Yesterday, Kasich vowed, "We'll get this fixed. "This is unbelievable that this even existed, and what's hard for me to understand is why Ohio over time didn't deal with this, but we'll deal with it now. And that's what's most important going forward."

Rob Nichols, spokesman for Kasich, said the governor intends to ask Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz and some of his deputies to be involved in going over the framework for a proposal to tighten Ohio laws on owning exotic animals.

"The unintended consequence of somebody doing something completely crazy is always going to exist," Kasich said. "You can't solve all of this with statute. But we think it's important we have tougher rules, tougher regulations and common sense.

"But we want to do it the right way. We don't want to misstep and then we come back and have somebody, in some other part of Ohio, release an animal because they're told they have to register and there's going to be a big fine."

Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo, was very disturbed by what transpired and vowed to prevent it from happening again. "I'm not the governor, but I'll do everything I can over my dead body to put these people out of business," Hanna said.

Ohio is one of a handful of states with no rules or regulations on private ownership of non-native wild animals. Thompson's personal collection was not inspected or given a permit by the state or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees animal breeders and exhibitors. Thompson was neither.

Pacelle, of the Humane Society, said Ohio now has a "Wild West situation." "One of the reasons we advocated for a ban was that these things never end well for the animals," Pacelle said. "In this case, a lot of animal suffering could have been prevented." He urged Kasich to issue his own executive order. "We need an emergency rule right away," Pacelle said. "Nothing in the nation has come close to this number of large, dangerous animals in a populated area."

Earlier this year, Kasich put the ODNR in charge of a working group to craft legislation controlling the sale and ownership of exotic animals and reptiles. That group has been developing a proposal in private meetings for several months but has not completed the task.

The group includes representatives of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Humane Society of the U.S., Knox County prosecutor's office, Ohio Association of Animal Owners, Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and Zoo Association of America.

Scott Zody, interim Natural Resources director, said the group has a draft outline of animal rules that eventually will be submitted to the General Assembly for legislative action. That could happen in 30 days, he said. The group's work will be expedited because of the Zanesville incident, Zody said.

The Ohio Veterinary Medical Association said yesterday that the events "serve as a reminder that Ohio's absence of meaningful regulation of exotic animals needs to be addressed in an appropriate and timely manner." The veterinarians support "legislative and regulatory efforts to restrict private ownership of indigenous and non-native wild animals that pose a significant risk to public health, domestic animal health or the ecosystem."

For the time being, the sale of exotic animals continues unabated in Ohio. A website for the busy Mount Hope Auction in Holmes County, where livestock and others animals are regularly auctioned, has sales scheduled November 4-5th in which buffalo, camels, zebras, kangaroos, wallabies, llamas, alpacas, ostriches and emus will be auctioned. The auction site says it does not accept wolves, bears, tigers or cats of any kind.

Hours after Thompson unleashed dozens of his exotic animals on Muskingum County, a veterinarian drew close to a 300-pound tiger and shot it in the neck with a tranquilizer dart. The dart's anesthetic did nothing to subdue the big cat, which "just went crazy" before being shot to death by deputies, Sheriff Matt Lutz said.

"He sort of exploded," recalled Dr. Barbara Wolfe, director of wildlife and conservation medicine at the Wilds animal preserve southeast of Zanesville. "He roared, he got up, and he came straight for me."

Even in a controlled setting like the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, tranquilizing large exotic animals so they and their captors stay safe is a challenge. Cut a large number of those animals loose, leaving them free to roam the countryside on a rainy night, and their unpredictability leads to dangerous confrontations like the one that left the tiger dead, veterinary experts say.

Exotic-animal owner Terry W. Thompson did just that when he set free more than 50 animals.

Sheriff Lutz is standing by his decision to shoot to kill. "Public safety was my No. 1 concern," he said yesterday. "I gave the order that, if the animals looked like they were going to get out, they were going down."

Staff members from the zoo and the Wilds faced an uncontrolled environment and unfamiliar animals when they arrived to help. "It was a very unstable situation, and we were unable to tranquilize any of the animals," said Dr. Gwen Myers, an associate veterinarian at the zoo. "You put (the animals) in a different situation, a very frightening situation ... and they are going to act very unpredictably," Myers said. "That presents quite a few dangers to the general public."

Dr. John Hubbell, an anesthesiologist at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said the animals were "stressed by their freedom, if you will, so it's very hard to determine how they're going to react." "There's a time-sensitive piece to this," he said. "Losing track of the animals would be a real issue with regards to their safety and the public's safety."

The handlers who responded did not have even basic information about the freed animals, such as how much they weighed or when they last ate. Those factors and a long list of others are vital to safely anesthetize animals, the veterinarians said. "They're having to guess all this information," said Dusty Lombardi, vice president of animal care at the zoo. "At our zoo and most zoos, there's no guessing game."

Vets often have to get close to the animals and hit them in specific parts of their bodies for the anesthetic to work. Certain animals require certain drugs. Large animals frequently stay on their feet, become more agitated and might move or run for up to 15 minutes before the drug kicks in. "Even in very high doses, an animal will go through an excitatory phase," Myers said. "It's not as simple as seeing the animal and taking a shot and it's going to go to sleep."

Protecting animals is important, said Steve Herron, shelter manager for the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley in Marietta. "But we also have to realize these are not domesticated animals."

Deputies are taking a beating online from critics who called the shootings "barbaric" and a "massacre," but Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, said the governor called Sheriff Lutz yesterday to tell him "what an incredible, professional job" he and his deputies did "under unimaginable circumstances."

The Rev. Steve McGuire of Zanesville said Sheriff Lutz chose the best of bad choices. The pastor of Grace United Methodist Church said it is human nature to assign blame in situations in which we're not involved. Had deputies not acted quickly, he said, "You don't know. We might be talking about human bodies this morning."

Feeding the kinds of exotic animals that escaped in Muskingum County on Tuesday can be expensive, and feeding them properly requires taking each animal's size, metabolism and gender into account, said Dana Hatcher, animal-nutrition manager at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. For example, the largest adult male lion at the Columbus Zoo eats 10½ pounds of raw meat in a day, while a smaller female lion eats 5 pounds. Hatcher offered these examples of zoo-animal diets and the average cost of feeding each animal for a year.

AFRICAN LION = 10.5 pounds of raw meat per day, plus occasional bones and dead prey animals such as rabbits. $6,760.

GRIZZLY BEAR = 13.5 pounds per day, which can include raw meat, a dry kibble mix, fish and sweet potatoes. $2,040.

TIGER = 9.6 pounds of raw meat per day, plus bones. $5,950.

WOLF = 3.7 pounds per day, which can include raw meat, dry-food mix and dead prey animals. $2,380.

LEOPARD = 2 pounds per day, mostly raw meat and dead prey animals. $1,900

MACAQUE MONKEY = 4.5 pounds per day, including high-fiber biscuits, fresh vegetables and grains. $1,000.

Source: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Update 10/21/11:
If a lion or bear managed to escape from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, officials there know exactly how to react.

The zoo has a thick manual, called the "animal escape procedure document," that explains what to do in an escape situation. It is updated every year. Staff members drill in a special-response team twice a year, bringing in outside law enforcement and emergency teams for help.

That knowledge helped the zoo's animal experts as they helped respond to the massive exotic-animal case near Zanesville on Tuesday and Wednesday.

"It is not something we take lightly," said Dusty Lombardi, vice president of animal care. "We were the perfect zoo to respond to this. We have put ourselves in many different scenarios."

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said his office did not have a plan in place for how to deal with an outbreak of animals of this magnitude, despite their knowledge of Terry W. Thompson's farm and the problems they had there in the past. He said some people have a misconception that the animals escaped, but they were let loose, and officers could not have foreseen that, he said. "Even if we had a plan for what happens if a lion gets loose, or what happens if 2 tigers get loose, or what happens if we have a lion and bear loose, there would never have been anything put in place for this," he said.

Sheriff Lutz said had this been just one or two animals escaping, and it had been earlier in the day, he has no doubt in his mind that they could have contained those animals and waited for wildlife experts to arrive with tranquilizers to subdue them. In which case, the situation would have ended much differently, he said.

Thompson's farm was a far cry from the Columbus Zoo, which is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and must have contingency plans, said zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters. That also applies to the Wilds, an open-range habitat for endangered species run by the zoo in Muskingum County. "It's what sets about 200 of us apart from 2,400 exotic-animal holders in the United States," Peters said. At weekly meetings, various emergencies are posed, with question-and-answer sessions, Lombardi said.

Zoo officials also meet regularly with local law-enforcement and emergency medical personnel in Delaware County and the city of Powell, where the zoo is located. Last year, the Powell emergency medical team came in for a drill in which a keeper was bit by a venomous snake.

In an emergency, the Delaware County sheriff's office would be the first responder, Sheriff Walter L. Davis III said yesterday. But the office first looks to the zoo officials for guidance. "Zoo personnel, they're the experts," Sheriff Davis said. "They know what type of tranquilizer to use, how aggressive these animals might be. We want to take their lead."

The zoo also plans for disasters such as tornadoes or events that might take out its communication channels, which would necessitate the sheriff's office coming in to set up a command center.

The zoo's response team runs through situations involving "very dangerous animals," Lombardi said. In that situation, if the animal had escaped both its containment and the zoo property, the trained firearms team would react.

"If we have a dangerous animal that escapes its perimeter fence, if it's headed toward a populated area, we would have to take the animal out," she said.

Davis said his office would be prepared to shoot to kill the animals if necessary, such as what happened near Zanesville.

Lombardi said she talked to staff members just yesterday afternoon about emergency recall. Animals are trained to respond to a specific sound. "When we train these animals over and over and they heard that (sound), they know they get this special treat and they focus on this and they move where we want them to move," Lombardi said.

This wasn't possible in Zanesville, because the animals had not been trained.

Update 10/22/11:
The 3 leopards, 2 monkeys and 1 bear who are quarantined at the Columbus Zoo, were seemingly doing well and eating, zoo officials said yesterday but they face an uncertain future.. It's too early to assess the physical condition of the animals because zoo officials have observed them only from a distance, said Dr. Gwen Myers, a zoo veterinarian. "We will not enter any of these pens with these animals unless they're under anesthesia," she said. "There are challenges with knowing the temperament and behavior. We don't know the ages, health status, whether they were born with defects, or inherited any diseases."

Aside from making sure that the animals are safe and cared for, there is no plan on where they'll land eventually, said zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters. At the moment, they belong to Marian Thompson.

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz and Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the zoo, have said they don't plan to take the animals away from Mrs. Thompson.

Hanna called her "a woman beaten down." "I want her to know they have a good home here, and they'll stay here until the legal process is done with," he said.

Zoo officials say it's unlikely the animals would be used for breeding programs because of their questionable genetics, but they could be useful for educational purposes at accredited institutions.

Releasing them back into the wild is not a possibility, Myers said, because they don't have the survival skills, and it is dangerous to reintroduce animals with unknown genetic lineage.

The 3 leopards are smaller than usual, estimated to be 60 pounds each. A typical leopard at the zoo weighs between 180 and 200 pounds, said zoo nutritionist Dana Hatcher.

The biggest challenge was finding a diet for the 2 primates, believed to be Celebes macaque monkeys, because the zoo doesn't have the species.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, which tracks endangered animals, Celebes macaques have been "critically endangered" since 2008. In the past 40 years, the population has fallen by 80 percent because of habitat loss and hunting.

The leopards also are considered endangered, although their breeds are not known because there could have been genetic mixing under private ownership.

Of the 49 animals killed, 18 were Bengal tigers. Hanna said fewer than 1,400 are in the wild.

Joe Maynard of the Zoological Association of America said plenty of big cats are in private hands. "Throughout the Midwest area, where there are lax rules and public sales going on, these animals are readily available," he said. "It's a shame that the animals have to suffer, and, unfortunately, I'm sure it won't be the last time."

The Muskingum County Sheriff said a coroner has ruled that Terry Thompson died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and then was bitten by one of the animals he freed shortly before dying. But Sheriff Matt Lutz says chicken pieces were strategically spread near Terry Thompson's remains. Investigators agree they were put there to attract the animals, but no one knows why.

According to the coroner, Thompson, 62, had a bite wound on his head that appeared to have come from a large cat, such as a Bengal tiger. Sheriff Lutz said it appears the bite happened quickly after Thompson shot himself.

More revelations about the eccentric animal preserve owner have come to light today. Thompson owed tens of thousands in unpaid taxes, and a fellow big-cat enthusiast said that he had taken in so many creatures he was 'in over his head.' Court records show that he and his wife owed at least $68,000 in unpaid taxes to the IRS and the county, and he had two federal tax liens filed against him last year.

Kenny Hetrick, who has 6 tigers and other animals on his property outside Toledo, said Thursday he used to see Thompson at exotic-animal auctions a few times a year in Ohio. Hetrick said many of Thompson's tigers had been donated to him by people who bought baby animals that they no longer wanted once they started to grow. 'He really had more there than what he could do,' Hetrick said. 'I don't know what his deal was, but he was in over his head.'

Meanwhile, Thompson’s wife, whom he had separated from before his suicide, is pleading for the return of the surviving animals, calling them her 'her children.'

Tom Stalf, a Columbus Zoo official who helped transport the surviving animals there, said: "This is a person that's very bonded to the animals.' He added: 'She wanted to see them and make sure that they were doing OK, and she missed them.' Though she wants the surviving animals to be returned to her, zoo officials said they will continue to care for the animals, and leave it up to the sheriff's department to decide if the animals will go home, to another facility, or remain at the zoo.

Marian Thompson, told Stalf that she is especially bonded with the surviving pair of primates. She revealed to him that when she was still living at the farm the surviving female Macaque would sleep with her.

Six animals - 3 leopards, a grizzly bear and 2 monkeys - were captured and taken to the zoo after they were freed. 'We are happy to report they all seem to be doing very well,' zoo spokeswoman Patti Peters said in a statement on Thursday.

These 2 leopards are among the 6 live animals now housed at the Columbus Zoo.

One grizzly bear and 2 macaques also managed to survive and are now at the Columbus Zoo.

Owner of the animals Terry W. Thompson

Sheriff's deputies were forced to shoot 48 wild animals – including 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions.

One unfound macaque monkey is now believed to have been eaten by one of the big cats.

Update 10/21/11:
The Thompson's exotic animals suffered neglect, newly released documents show that the exotic animals caged at a backyard zoo in Ohio suffered abuse and neglect -- lacking necessities such as food, water and shade -- while the public was repeatedly placed at risk by ramshackle enclosures and animals on the loose.

Lion cages often lacked roofs, leaving "nothing to prevent the animals from escaping," and other animals were kept in filthy, cramped pens, according to the reports by the Muskingum County Sheriff's Office. Pens were too close together, causing anxiety for the animals and sometimes injury: One tiger was missing its tail, most likely because an animal in an adjoining cage had ripped or bitten it off.

Moreover, the documents, which were released Friday, October 19th suggest that Ohio law enforcement officials were unable to put a stop to the situation. The state has been criticized by animal rights activists as being too lenient toward owners of exotic and dangerous animals.

Law enforcement officials who were called to the farm at dusk on Tuesday October 18th said they had little choice but to gun down most of the animals to prevent them from leaving the farm at nightfall. Six animals were rescued and Thompson's estranged wife, Marian, has expressed interest in reuniting with them.

The documents show that law enforcement authorities were called to the Thompson compound on Kopchak Road again and again over the years to follow up on dozens of complaints -- including a lion on the loose; horses, cows and bulls breaking free and trampling neighbors' property; and a mountain lion sighting.

But the most serious allegations, according to the documents, arose in 2008 and involved reports of animal cruelty and public safety abuses, including:
_Inadequate fencing. Some cages lacked roofs, while others were secured by plastic ties and other makeshift methods. In some cases, lions and tigers were kept in relatively lightweight dog kennels.
_Unsanitary conditions. Cages were caked with layers of urine and feces. In some cases, animals were living alongside rotting carcasses.
_Pens so tight that the animals, particularly tigers and lions, could not get sufficient exercise, or pens located right alongside each other, causing stress and anxiety for the animals.
_Poor diets. Lion cubs showed signs of being bowlegged because of malnutrition.

Follow-up reports suggest that the Thompson made many upgrades demanded of them. According to some of the paperwork, authorities decided at one point that there was not enough evidence for a conviction on animal abuse charges and instead opted to work with the couple to remedy the situation.

"I confirmed with Marian ... that they would call the Sheriff's Office immediately if an animal ever escaped," an officer wrote in a report.

Neighbors raised concerns about cruelty and sanitation after noticing that several cattle had died and their remains were left within view of the road in an area where animals continued to graze and wander. Dead animals were ultimately placed in a "dead hole" on the property, documents said.

"The smell of rotting flesh was very hard to stand," an officer noted in one of the reports.

Marian Thompson told authorities that she and her husband took in many of the animals because they were abused and unwanted. "They keep them because they are animal lovers," a report said.

Update 10/28/11:
The state stopped an attempt by the widow of Terry W. Thompson to reclaim the 6 exotic animals rescued last week.

She had told zoo officials that she wanted them back. Zoo officials then called state authorities.

When Marian Thompson arrived at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to retrieve 3 leopards, 2 monkeys and a grizzly bear, she was presented with a quarantine order from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. That's when she learned her animals are staying at the zoo. Thompson was allowed a brief visit with the animals, the second time she's been there to see them, said Dale Schmidt, president and chief executive officer of the zoo. "These animals are the innocents in this situation," Schmidt said.

Thompson and her attorney showed up in a large white truck pulling a horse trailer. She has yet to comment on what happened on October 18th.

Thompson had not told the zoo where she intended to take the animals, he said.

The quarantine, in effect indefinitely, followed a coordinated effort by Gov. John Kasich's office, Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Agriculture Department and the zoo. The order was not finished until just before 2 p.m., when Agriculture Director James Zehringer had one of his veterinarians, Dr. Ned Cunningham, sign the order. Cunningham said last night that the order means the animals can't be moved from the zoo until they're released from quarantine. His handwritten note on the state-prescribed quarantine form says the animals must remain at the zoo because of "possible exposure to dangerous contagious disease, including but not limited to herpes B virus."

Thompson can appeal the order.

Agriculture veterinarians said they are concerned about "the potential for both animal and human-health issues related directly to the condition that the animals had been kept in at the Muskingum County property." They said they also will check for such things as rabies, parasites, viruses and bacteria.

Any animal brought to the zoo is quarantined for at least a month. Keepers are allowed minimal physical contact with them.

Agriculture spokesman Andy Ware said access to the animals will be limited to officials from the zoo and the state agency, plus Thompson -- if she follows zoo rules, including "bio-security protocol" because of the potential for disease.

Schmidt said the Zanesville animals had not even had blood drawn for testing as of yesterday, but would now.

Jack Hanna, emeritus director of the zoo, said last night that he's relieved the animals are staying at the zoo. He said if Thompson took them, "They'd be going back to animal cruelty." He was the one who persuaded her on October 19th to send the animals to the zoo. "I heard her crying and shaking and I went up and hugged her," Hanna said. "I could see she had lost everything in her life. So I said, 'I'm not taking your children. I'm taking them to the zoo for their safety.' "

He said he told Thompson that others would have to determine where the animals would eventually go.

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said the quarantine order was a welcome development. "I think right now it's the best thing for our community and the best thing for these animals," he said. Sheriff Lutz said his office received calls from residents yesterday concerned about the prospect of the animals' return. "I think our whole community is still feeling the effects of this investigation," he said. "We don't want any chance this can happen again in any fashion."

Sam Kopchak Jr., 64, who found himself only 30 feet from a male African lion during the night of the animals' release and subsequent escape from the property, said he does not want the animals to return. "After we experienced what we experienced, I feel I would rather not have the animals around," he said yesterday. Now that he has had time to reflect, Kopchak said he has a better appreciation for how precarious a situation he was in when he went to bring his horse into the barn and saw the lion on the other side of a simple livestock fence. "I feel very, very fortunate that lion didn't come over that fence," he said.

Fred Polk, who lives three houses down from the Thompson property, said the animals should not come back unless there is a 10- or 12-foot perimeter fence around the property. "I know my wife doesn't want them back," he said. "She's scared to death of them."

The small lobby in the Muskingum County sheriff's office is plastered with almost 50 cards, letters and hand-written notes from children, thanking the sheriff for his actions last week. One child's drawing of a person standing under a monkey in a tree reads: "We are safe because you are brave."

Update 12/22/11:
A final autopsy report reveals that Terry W. Thompson was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of his death.

The autopsy, released yesterday by Muskingum County Coroner Perry M. Kalis, provides additional -- and in some cases gruesome -- details about the death of Thompson.

It confirms that Thompson died after putting the barrel of a gun against the roof of his mouth and firing. It also reveals that Thompson had many deep claw and bite wounds from large cats, made in the moments after he died.

A toxicology report showed the only substance discovered in his blood was an antihistamine.

Update 2/8/12:
Robert G. McClelland, an attorney for Marian Thompson, wrote to the Ohio Department of Agriculture last week that she will sue the state if department officials do not contact him this week about scheduling tests to determine the health of the animals or an administrative hearing so she can argue for their return.

The surviving animals -- a spotted leopard, a black leopard, two Celebes macaques and a brown bear -- have been held at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium since late October under a quarantine order from a state veterinarian. A second spotted leopard that was taken from the property was crushed by a falling gate while its pen was being cleaned on January 29th at the zoo and was euthanized.

McClelland referred to the leopard's death in the letter, writing that "it is apparent that the well-being of the animals is not the top priority at their current location." He said Thompson wants the leopard's body returned to her so it can be buried.

A department spokeswoman wrote in an email yesterday that the leopard's body already has been "sanitarily disposed of" in accordance with the agency's policies regarding creatures examined in its animal health laboratory.

She said department officials still were reviewing McClelland's letter and had no comment. No dates have been set for testing the surviving animals or for an appeal hearing on the quarantine.

In his letter, McClelland said the department pushed back testing dates for the animals twice in December, and he has had no contact from the department since early this year on setting a new date. He said the tests will show that the animals do not carry any diseases that would keep them from being released to Thompson.

He said state officials have reneged on an agreement that a veterinarian of Thompson's choosing would be able to also test the animals.

The letter expresses frustration with the department for what he describes as a lack of communication. "The delay in this case is inexcusable and more than coincidental," he wrote.

Update 2/26/12:
Marian Thompson is fighting to regain possession of 133 firearms that authorities seized from her husband in 2008.

A federal judge in Columbus has denied a request for a summary judgment in the case, paving the way for a trial scheduled to start May 7.

Marian Thompson argues she's the rightful owner of guns and ammunition seized ahead of federal weapons charges against her husband, Terry.

Prosecutors contend she knew about illegal activity involving the weapons.

Update 3/22/12:
Veterinarians from an Ohio zoo began performing medical tests on the five exotic animals held there since October, 2011.

The Columbus zoo has been caring for 3 leopards, 2 primates and a bear under state-issued quarantine orders.

Terry Thompson's widow, Marian Thompson, has sought to reclaim the surviving animals, but the Ohio Department of Agriculture ordered that they be kept in quarantine. Ohio law allows the agriculture director to quarantine animals while investigating reports of potentially dangerous diseases.

Officials initially were concerned about whether the animals were strong enough to survive being anesthetized for testing, but the state veterinarian determined that they were.

The animals are undergoing physical exams, X-rays and blood testing, said Erica Pitchford, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department. The state will send blood and urine samples to an outside lab for analysis. The results could take one to two weeks.

Pitchford said Marian Thompson's veterinarian sent a veterinary technician to be present during the testing and to collect the split samples from the animals.

Thompson has appealed the quarantine order. A hearing on the issue has been scheduled for April 23rd.

Update 4/28/12:
Five exotic animals that survived last fall's release near Zanesville might be returned to owner Marian Thompson next week.

With the clock ticking on a quarantine order -- and Muskingum County officials saying they are powerless to prevent the return -- the spotted leopard, black leopard, two Celebes macaques and brown bear might be back on the Kopchak Road farm.

Gov. John Kasich's administration is making a last-ditch stand to prevent that. But because a proposed state law has not been passed, the state lacks authority to act when the quarantine expires. Administration officials have spent the past few weeks urging Muskingum County officials to prevent the animals' return, to no avail.

"We haven't been alerted to any reason why she wouldn't be able to get them back," Sheriff Matt Lutz said. "If I had my way, they wouldn't come back here. But my opinions don't really count. I have to act under the law."

Muskingum County Prosecutor Michael Haddox said yesterday that the county is very limited in what it can do about Thompson's animals at this point, absent a new state law. "In my opinion, we're on pretty thin ice trying to keep the animals from coming back," he said. "Unless there's a situation where there's animal abuse or neglect, or a situation where a public nuisance is present, there's not a lot we can do. "If the animals are returned," Haddox said, "we want to make sure our residents of Muskingum County are protected."

The five remaining animals have been quarantined at the zoo since October of last year.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which issued the original quarantine order in case the surviving animals were sick, announced this week that the animals don't have contagious diseases.

Marian Thompson, the widow of the deceased animal owner, has been trying for months to get the animals back.

Affidavits, letters and emails obtained through public-records requests detail the administration's efforts to keep the animals from her.

Kasich's chief legal counsel, D. Michael Grodhaus, in an April 3rd email, asked Haddox to act "to protect the public and to make certain that the tragic events of October 18th are not repeated." He said the legal authority to deal with the animals rests with local humane-society and health-department officials.

The administration also sent Haddox affidavits from several state employees who were at the Thompson farm and described the cages as "inoperable or damaged to the extent that they could not be used for containment purposes." They also said they saw "unsanitary conditions" and smelled the "overwhelming stench of urine and excrement."

Attempts to enlist the help of the Muskingum County Humane Society also have been unproductive. Kimberly Kutschbach, assistant legal counsel for Kasich, sent a letter yesterday to Patty McNutt, a humane-society board member, asking her to intervene because Thompson apparently intends to return the animals to "unsafe and unsanitary conditions."

The six animals that survived that day had not been released by Terry W. Thompson. They were still locked in cages when officials arrived at the farm.

Robert G. McClelland, Marian Thompson's attorney, said in an April 18th letter that state officials will be breaking the law if they don't return the animals to their owner.

"Marian Thompson never agreed that the animals should remain at the Columbus Zoo for this many months and, in fact, attempted to take them prior to the quarantine order."

Update 4/23/12:
An administrative hearing has been delayed for a week over Ohio's quarantine order for five animals kept at a zoo.

A state-appointed lawyer was set to hear arguments Monday about whether the state had the authority to quarantine the surviving animals. After more than an hour-and-a-half delay to the start of the morning hearing, attorneys announced testimony would start on April 30.

A spokeswoman for Ohio's agriculture department said the hearing was pushed back at the request of Marian Thompson, who had demanded the appeal hearing.

The Columbus zoo has been caring for the animals under state-issued quarantine orders.

Marian Thompson appeared at Monday's hearing. She had sought to reclaim the surviving animals,

The five surviving animals will remain under quarantine at an Ohio zoo until at least Friday.

The observation period for whether the animals have rabies ends on Friday, said agriculture spokeswoman Erica Pitchford. She couldn't say what would happen next to the animals. The quarantine order does not expire then, Pitchford said, but the observation period is the remaining test of the quarantine order.

The agriculture department said in a statement that the review indicated that all five surviving animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested. The department said the animals will remain under quarantine at the zoo for continued observation for signs of rabies, which the agency said could only be confirmed after an animal is dead.

"No determinations regarding the status of the quarantine will be made before the observation period has concluded," the statement read.

Pitchford said the standard observation period for the animals is six months, which ends Friday.

The widow's lawyer said in an email Monday afternoon that the results substantiate what the widow as maintained since the quarantine was issued on Oct. 27.

Attorney Robert McClelland said the hearing was pushed back until next week to give all parties time to look over the evidence. He said the state could terminate the quarantine order prior to next Monday's hearing. Otherwise, state officials will then have to prove the order should remain in place.

A state-appointed lawyer who would oversee the administrative appeal hearing has between 30 and 45 days to render a report about the quarantine order. Any final decision would be made by the state's agriculture director. Thompson could also appeal that decision.

Update 4/27/12:
The state's agriculture director told the lawyer for Marian Thompson earlier this month that the Ohio Department of Agriculture required proof of the arrangements Thompson has made for the animals' confinement and care. The department has scheduled an administrative hearing for Monday on Thompson's request.

Attorney Robert McClelland told an attorney for the agriculture department in a letter dated April 18 that the animals now held by the zoo were not harmed in the October release because they were in proper cages. "A limited number of cages were harmed during the incident and there are plenty of alternative cages to safely secure the few remaining animals," McClelland wrote.

McClelland asked the state for the animals to be returned to Thompson upon the return of negative test results.

Medical results released this week showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested. But the department said the animals would remain under quarantine at the zoo for continued observation for signs of rabies, which the agency said could only be confirmed after an animal is dead.

"No determinations regarding the status of the quarantine will be made before the observation period has concluded," the agency said at the time.

Erica Pitchford, a spokeswoman for the agriculture department, says the standard observation period for the animals is six months, which ended Friday. She said Friday she did not anticipate changes to the status of the quarantine order before the Monday administrative hearing.

Thompson asked for the hearing to appeal the quarantine order. She has questioned whether the state had the authority to quarantine the animals on the suspicion of potential dangerous infectious diseases.

Tom Stalf, the Columbus zoo's chief operating officer, said in a sworn statement released Friday by department that he was at Thompson's property the day the animals were released, where he observed that two primates were held in separate, small bird cages. A brown bear was also kept in a cage that wasn't fit for its size, he said.

"The bear was very aggressive and was biting at the wire cage," Stalf said in the affidavit, which is dated Tuesday.

Update 4/30/12:
State officials will return five surviving exotic animals to Marian Thompson.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced the decision Monday at an agency hearing in which the state was to defend its authority to quarantine the animals on suspicion of infectious diseases.

A spokeswoman for the agency said the state had exhausted its authority in the case and that the state's agriculture director would lift the quarantine order that was placed on the animals in October. Medical results released last week showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested.

That means the animals can be returned to Marian Thompson of Zanesville, though it's unclear when. Logistics for retrieving the animals will have to be worked out between Thompson and the Columbus zoo, which has been holding the animals, said agriculture spokesman Erica Pitchford.

Once the animals are returned to Thompson, nothing in Ohio law allows state officials to check on their welfare or require improvements to conditions in which they are kept, Pitchford said.

The local humane society could intervene with help from the county prosecutor if there were an investigation into animal cruelty, she said.

"While repeated appeals have been made to local authorities to seek a court order to inspect the Thompson party to ensure the safety of the animals and the public, so far, no such local action has been taken," Pitchford said.

Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said the facility must follow certain protocols for the animals to be handed over to Thompson. For instance, she said, the animals must be sedated for the transfer, but they have to fast for 24 hours before being given the sedative.

Peters said the animals were fed Monday morning, and Wednesday would likely be the earliest they could be moved. Details are still being worked out, she said.

State veterinarian Dr. Tony Forshey said he's concerned for the animals' welfare and the public's safety once they are back in Marian Thompson's care. "These are not domestic animals," he said. "They are wild animals. So it's important to have the proper housing and caging to ensure that these animals do not escape."

Fred Polk, Thompson's next door neighbor, said he doesn't want the animals to return. Five creatures were killed on his property in October, including a cougar that was 15 feet from his front porch. The ordeal terrified his wife, said Polk, 80. And if the animals got out again, he said, "I'm going to file the biggest lawsuit you've ever seen on them."

McClelland has told the agriculture department that his client has adequate cages for the surviving animals.

The animals' release by Terry W. Thompson and their killings by the Sheriff's Department in order to protect the public, led lawmakers to re-examine the state's restrictions on exotic pets, which are considered some of the nation's weakest. The state Senate recently passed a bill that would ban new ownership of monkeys, lions and other exotic animals. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Gov. John Kasich, the Columbus zoo, and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation support the measure, which would allow current owners to keep their animals by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014 and meeting other strict conditions. Facilities accredited by some national zoo groups would be exempt from the bill, along with sanctuaries and research institutions.

Update 5/1/12:
Sharing a property line with a Zanesville-area farm crawling with lions, tigers and bears meant Fred Polk always had a loaded rifle at the ready, just in case a wild animal ever escaped. But five of those animals could soon be coming back after the state dropped its bid yesterday to keep them under quarantine at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

State agricultural officials say they have no authority to keep the animals any longer. With legislation to regulate the ownership of primates, elephants, bears and other exotic animals still pending, state officials -- including Gov. John Kasich -- say the responsibility lies with the local humane society and other Muskingum County officials to take action to prevent Thompson's widow from returning the remaining animals to the Kopchak Road farm.

Marian Thompson has lobbied for the return of the five surviving animals. Thompson has indicated that she plans to take the animals back to the Zanesville farm and house them in the cages that were in place before the October incident, Erica Pitchford, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said.

Kasich said local officials have been unresponsive to the state's inquiries about inspecting the property. "We think there's authority for this to be handled in the right way," he said yesterday. "That is for the humane society and local officials to be able to get out there and inspect. Warrants can be issued. They can go out and see what the conditions are on the ground. They've chosen not to do that."

A bill passed last week by the Ohio Senate would ban the ownership of most exotic animals starting in 2014. Current owners would have to insure and register their animals, and implant microchips, to keep them. The first hearing on the bill in the House is scheduled for Wednesday.

But Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz said that, with no exotic animals yet on the farm -- and no complaints -- there's no action he can take. "There was no law in place for myself as a local authority for us to do anything about the situation in the first place," he said. "There's nothing in place as of April 30 at 2 pm. for me to go onto her property." He said that County Prosecutor Michael Haddox and Thompson's attorney had been in touch about arranging some kind of visit to inspect the cages and property.

As for the apparent shift in responsibility to local authorities, Sheriff Lutz said that was unfair and unwarranted. For now, the sheriff said he would monitor the situation and respond to any issues as they arise -- just as he did on Oct 18.

The Kasich administration also sent a letter last week to Muskingum County Humane Society board member Patty McNutt asking her to intervene because of the "unsafe and unsanitary" conditions at the Thompson Farm.

Barry McElfresh, president of the humane society, said he has heard nothing from state officials since October. He has visited the Thompson farm on Kopchak Road three times, for unfounded complaints about underfed horses, and said Marian Thompson has been cooperative. He said he has not inspected the cages where the animals apparently will go. If the animals are taken back to the farm, he said he'll contact Thompson and arrange a visit.

A zoo veterinarian will meet soon with a veterinarian of Thompson's choosing to coordinate how the animals will be moved, a zoo spokeswoman said yesterday. No date has been set.

Polk, for his part, said he won't be too concerned with the animals' return if it's done right. He wants to see the animals microchipped and a real containment fence put around the property, not the flimsy wire that's in place now. It's a free country, he said, and people have rights. "If the law says they can have them, there's nothing we can do about it," he said. He will, however, be loading his gun again.

Update 5/4/12:
The Columbus Zoo on Friday returned five surviving exotic animals to Marian Thompson.

Marian Thompson of Zanesville had been appealing the order, and on Monday it was lifted by Ohio's agriculture director. Thompson, distinctive in a bright pink shirt and black pants, arrived at a loading area at the zoo around 10:30 am, driving a pickup truck pulling a silver horse trailer.

Two animals were loaded by hand into the horse trailer in wooden crates, and roaring from the leopards could be heard coming from the crates. A forklift loaded a steel cage, likely carrying the bear. Thompson put her hand on the cage and appeared to be talking to the animal inside as it was put into the trailer.

The monkeys were transported in dog carriers and loaded inside the cab of the truck, with the windows rolled down.

Several zoo staffers, including veterinarians and keepers, watched the transfer, with some taking video and still photos. Two United States Agriculture Department inspectors were also on hand with cameras.

Medical results released last week showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested.

Thompson had previously tried to get the animals back from the zoo, but the quarantine prevented her from taking them.

Once the animals are returned to Thompson, nothing in Ohio law allows state officials to check on their welfare or require improvements to conditions in which they are kept. The state's agriculture department says it will be up to local authorities to be alert to their caretaking.

The zoo said it raised $44,000 in online donations to help care for the animals, though the actual cost was not known.

It's unclear whether the animals were headed back to the Zanesville farm.

Update 5/11/12:
Marian Thompson facing foreclosure has paid back taxes on the rural property where she and her husband once housed dozens of exotic animals.

Marian Thompson had owed $14,000 for her 70 acres in eastern Ohio near Zanesville, and paid the amount Friday.

Update 10/26/12:
A year has gone by since 49 exotic animals were killed after being let loose from their cages by owner Terry W. Thompson at the Muskingum County Animal Farm near Zanesville, Ohio. After the October 18, 2011 incident, in all, 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, 6 black bears, 2 grizzly bears, 3 mountain lions, 2 wolves and a baboon were killed. The only animals to survive were 3 leopards, 2 monkeys and a grizzly bear, which were originally taken to the Columbus Zoo. At the time, however, there was nothing under Ohio law prohibiting Terry W. Thompson’s widow, Marian Thompson, from taking the surviving animals. So six months later, she did just that.

Public outcry helped bring about changes. On June 5, 2012, Governor John Kasich signed into law Ohio Senate Bill 310, the Dangerous Wild Animal Act. Under this law, people who currently own animals on the list can keep them but need to obtain a permit. Exotic animal owners in Ohio have until November 5, 2012 to register their animals. The long list of dangerous wild animals includes lions, tigers, bears, wolves, hyenas, elephants, alligators, crocodiles, certain types of monkeys and restricted snakes.

Along with a permit, liability insurance or surety bonds up to $1 million is also required. Owners must also pass a criminal background check, and need to comply with the Ohio Department of Agricultures’s housing and safety standards. No permits will be approved after the deadline. Offenders may be charged with a misdemeanor.

As of October 22, 2012 only 17 owners in the state registered their animals so far. Marian Thompson was not one of them.

Starting on January 1, 2014, new ownership of any of the wild animals covered under S.B. 310 will be banned and all owners must comply with the new restrictions and regulations. Some other provisions of the law include that the owner must post signs warning that a dangerous animal is on the property. Warning signs also must be used on a vehicle transporting any animal included on the dangerous wild animals or restricted snakes list.

No animals can be seized until the ban goes into effect in 2014. The State of Ohio has allocated $3.5 million to build a facility to hold the exotic animals removed from or surrendered by owners who can no longer care for the animals due to the new law. A facility has been proposed for Reynoldsburg, Ohio, to be built behind the Ohio Department of Agriculture building on U.S. 40. Some residents from neighboring Etna Township oppose the site, however, stating it is too close to residences and businesses.

Why have only 17 Ohioans who own lions, tigers, monkeys or alligators registered for a permit so far? It is believed there are many more owners of exotic animals that have not yet registered. Are they waiting until the last minute to do so? Are they moving, leaving the state to get away from the restrictions? Or are they just ignoring the law?

Update 11/5/12:
Marian Thompson submitted her state registration form for the 2 leopards, 2 primates and a bear that had been returned to her in May.

Records show she also has two 11-week-old leopards on her property.

Monday was the deadline for owners of exotic animals in Ohio to register the creatures under a tougher law. Owners must say how many animals they have, where they are, and who their veterinarian is, among other details.

Ohio's agriculture department said Monday it had received 130 registration forms accounting for 483 dangerous wild animals.

Update 10/26/12:
Five exotic animals which survived after being released from a Zanesville farm when dozens more were killed will be relocated.

Marian Thompson, widow of Terry W. Thompson, willl moved 2 leopards, 2 primates and 1 bear from the farm.

Marian Thompson wrote in a letter addressed to an administrator at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, "Their safety and well-being have always been my top priority and, due to continual threats made toward them and the property upon which they reside, I am forced to make this decision." The 5 exotic animals have reportedly gone to a federally licensed exotic animal education center near Massillon.

Under Ohio’s new wild animal law, the transfer of wild animals must be authorized by Ohio’s agriculture director, however, no request to transfer the animals has been received according to Michael Rodgers, Ohio Department of Agriculture's chief legal counsel.

Update 2/5/14:
Marian Thompson says in a Dec. 30 letter that she transferred 2 adult leopards, 2 primates and a bear to another Ohio farm.

Thompson also says she moved 2 young leopards to a separate state address. She says she was forced to transfer the animals because of continual threats toward them and the property where they lived.

Reference: The Daily Mail

CBS news The Columbus Dispatch
Norwalk Reflector Los Angeles Times
The Daily Mail The Akron Examiner
Muskingum County Court