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Could exotic animals be returned to Ohio zookeeper's wife?

October 21, 2011 |  9:42 am

Macaque
The wife of a backyard zookeeper who set his big game animals free in Ohio before taking his own life has said she wants to take back the six creatures that survived a bloody hunt with law enforcement officers.

But that request by Marian Thompson might be moot.

Muskingum Sheriff Matt Lutz told the media this week that authorities won't even consider returning the animals -- including three leopards, two monkeys and a young grizzle bear -- unless they can be assured that Thompson can suitably care for them. And that may be unlikely, given the revelations that the Thompsons were deeply in debt, owing at least $69,000 in back taxes. Husband and wife had been living apart as of late.

The surviving animals are currently at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, where officials say they are adjusting nicely to their new home. Jack Hanna, the Columbus Zoo director emeritus, told the media throng that has descended on Ohio that he met with Marian Thompson and promised her that he wasn't seizing them, just caring for them in the aftermath of the tragedy.

"I said, 'I'm not taking your babies or children. I'm taking your animals to the zoo.' "

PHOTOS: A closer look at the animals saved

Lutz, who has been overseeing the investigation into the Ohio tragedy, told the media that Marian Thompson was especially attached to the animals and suggested that she would like them back. "She probably spent more time with these animals than some parents do spend with their kids," he said at a news conference held earlier this week.

Marian Thompson reportedly told Columbus Zoo staff as much herself: ABC reported that during her visit there she remarked that she was particularly close to the surviving female monkey, which would sleep with her when she was still living at the farm.

So far, Marian Thompson has remained tight-lipped on what drove her husband this week to throw open the cages and slash open the pens on more than 50 wild and exotic animals that he kept in a backyard zoo, among them tigers, lions, wolves, bears and monkeys.

Once the animals were freed to wander the 73-acre compound in Zanesville, Ohio, Thompson then used a gun to kill himself. (At around the same time he killed himself, Thompson was bitten in the head -- most likely by one of his big cats -- and dragged a short distance.) Authorities are at a loss as to why he all but signed a death warrant for the creatures he claimed to love: Law enforcement officers said they had little choice but to gun down most of the animals to protect the public.

ALSO:

Did big cats in Ohio try to eat owner?

Six animals saved from carnage settling in at Ohio zoo

All exotic animals set loose in Ohio either killed, captured -- or eaten

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: One of two macaques taken from Thompson's backyard farm at its new home at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Credit: Grahm S. Jones / Columbus Zoo and Aquarium 

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