COLUMBUS - The widow of an exotic animal owner who released dozens of creatures from their eastern Ohio farm before killing himself has told state officials that she has relocated five animals that survived the 2011 incident.
The animals were among those at the Zanesville farm in October 2011 when Terry Thompson released dozens of dangerous, wild creatures before committing suicide. Authorities killed 48 animals - including black bears, African lions and Bengal tigers - fearing for the public's safety in the rural area.
In a letter dated Dec. 30, Thompson's widow, Marian, said she transferred the surviving animals - two adult leopards, two primates and a bear- to another Ohio farm. The Associated Press obtained the letter today through a public records request.
The state had released the animals to Marian Thompson in May 2012 after initially holding them at a Columbus zoo. The zoo had to euthanize one other leopard.
"After two years of constant consideration and emotional turmoil, it is with deep sorrow that I inform you of the rehoming of my exotic animals," she wrote in the letter 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."
Thompson did not immediately return a call seeking comment today.
Michael Rodgers, the department's chief legal counsel, acknowledged receipt of the note in a letter sent to Thompson on Tuesday but said the state had not received a request to authorize the transfer of the animals.
Ohio's agriculture director must authorize any transfer of a dangerous wild animal after Sept. 5, 2012, the effective date of the state's new law regulating exotic creatures. Rodgers asked Thompson to respond in 10 days.
Cyndi Huntsman, who owns Stump Hill Farm near Massillon, confirmed today that the five surviving animals have been in the care of her federally licensed exotic animal education center between four and five months. Huntsman is among seven owners who are challenging Ohio's new law, claiming the rules infringe on their constitutional rights.
Marian Thompson's letter also said she moved two other young leopards to a separate address in the state. She said those animals were registered to another owner in Dresden, who is applying for a propagation permit.
Ohio's new law required owners to obtain permits by Jan. 1 to legally keep their dangerous wild animals.
Permit applicants must pass background checks, pay fees, obtain liability insurance or surety bonds, and prove they can properly contain the animal and care for it. They also had to register their animals with the state.
The department has so far issued nine permits and received 63 incomplete permit applications from owners, said agriculture spokeswoman Erica Hawkins.
"We are trying to work with owners that genuinely want to be in compliance with the law to get them in compliance with the law," Hawkins said.
Nancy Nighswander, of Tiffin, said obtaining a permit for her two snow monkeys and cougar wasn't easy. The 60-year-old retired dog groomer said she mowed lawns to help pay for the roughly $3,500 in updates to her fences, as required by the law.
"I've spent hours and hours and hours going over the new (regulations) and making sure I'm in compliance with everything," she said in a telephone interview.
Nighswander called the law overreaching and an overreaction to what happened in Zanesville. Still, she said she loved her animals.
"There's such a strong bond with these animals," she said. "They're members of our family - just like a domestic dog or cat."