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Surviving Exotic Animals Returned to Owner in Ohio

Jay LaPrete/Getty Images(ZANESVILLE, Ohio) -- Ohio officials plan to return five exotic animals to a woman whose husband released 50 wild animals, including mountain lions, Bengal tigers and bears, into the Ohio suburbs last year before committing suicide, requiring authorities to kill nearly all of the creatures to protect the public.

Marian Thompson, the widow of Terry Thompson, will take possession of two leopards, two monkeys and a bear -- five of the six animals who survived the incident and have been living at the Columbus zoo. A third leopard was also living at the zoo but had to be euthanized.

State officials had no legal means to keep Thompson from reclaiming the animals, as long as she was able to demonstrate to the State Agriculture Department that she had prepared adequate arrangements for their care.

Terry Thompson, 61, released the animals on the evening of Oct. 18 and then shot himself with a handgun. He had just been released from prison after serving a year for illegal firearm possession. After he died, an animal bit him in the head and dragged him into the driveway of his Zanesville home.

Fifty animals, including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, eight bears, two wolves and a baboon began spreading out from Thompson's home after the release.

The state highway patrol cordoned off a seven-mile area and law enforcement officers began searching for the animals in the dark with infrared devices. By the next day all had been shot dead or had been hit by cars, though one monkey appeared to have been killed by an escaped lion and a second monkey was believed eaten by a lion. One bear was dropped by a police officer with a handgun after it had approached within seven feet.

Six animals survived and were transferred to the Columbus zoo. Thompson had been cited previously for animal neglect, and an official who had visited his property on the day of the incident had noted that the cages for the monkeys and at least one of the bears were inadequate.

Ohio has some of the nation's weakest laws governing exotic pets. The state senate has passed a law that would ban any new ownership of exotic animals. Current owners would have to meet specified conditions and also obtain a permit. The state house must now pass the bill, and Gov. John Kasich has said he will sign it.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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