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Widow loses bid to claim surviving zoo animals

Six exotic animals that survived a police hunt after being freed by their owner before he killed himself will be kept in quarantine at a zoo, not returned to his widow, Ohio's department of agriculture has ordered.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been trying to stop Marian Thompson reclaiming three leopards, two primates and a young grizzly bear that have been cared for by the zoo since last week.

Their owner, Terry Thompson, set 56 wild animals – including tigers and lions – free in a rural area of eastern Ohio last Tuesday before killing himself. His actions set off a highly publicised shoot-to-kill hunt for the escaped beasts, and most of the animals were killed by each other or by sheriff's deputies armed with high-powered rifles.

Columbus Zoo had no legal rights to the animals, but asked the state to intervene when Mrs Thompson requested that the animals be returned to her.

A veterinary officer at the agriculture department who looked at the animals said that they should remain quarantined. The announcement came after the Ohio Governor, John Kasich, asked the agency to ensure they did not pose a health threat. The department of agriculture said it had been told that the animals lived in unsanitary conditions, where they could have been exposed to disease and the order provided a chance to investigate their health. The order prevents the zoo releasing them until it is clear that they are free of disease.

The zoo said that the animals had been housed in tiny, muddy plywood shelters, many without roofs, and that the grizzly bear and monkeys had been kept in enclosures "about the size of a parrot cage".