By Jo Ingles
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - The Columbus Zoo on Friday reluctantly turned over two leopards, a bear and two monkeys to the widow of a man who released them and more than four dozen other dangerous animals into the Ohio countryside before he committed suicide last October.
The incident in October caused a panic in a rural area near Zanesville, Ohio and forced police to hunt the animals and kill most of them.
The president of the Columbus Zoo, Dale Schmidt, said the zoo had no legal way to keep the animals any longer because Ohio is one of a handful of states with no restrictions on exotic animal ownership.
"We have concerns for the animals and their welfare because the conditions were not very good there (on the farm)," Schmidt said. "In fact, they were pretty deplorable."
Schmidt said that if the animals get loose again, they pose a threat to human safety.
Marian Thompson, the widow of Terry Thompson, who released 56 animals from their cages last October before killing himself, showed up at the zoo on Friday morning with a large horse trailer.
The five animals were loaded into the trailer without incident. She immediately left the zoo and drove the trailer back to the Zanesville farm. Neither Thompson nor her attorney granted interviews with the media about the decision to remove the animals from the zoo.
The five animals -- a spotted leopard, a black leopard, two Celebes Macaque monkeys and a brown bear -- were the only survivors of the escape. Law enforcement officials killed 49 of the beasts, one was presumed eaten by other animals and one leopard died later at the zoo.
The Ohio state Senate passed a bill last week that would ban Ohio residents from buying lions, tigers, bears, elephants, wolves, alligators, crocodiles, and certain kinds of monkeys as pets, unless they follow strict guidelines.
Existing owners of wild animals could keep them if they follow the new rules, which include permit fees, registration and constructing proper facilities. The Ohio House may not vote on a version of the measure until the end of May. If approved, it then may have to be reconciled with the Senate bill and signed by Republican Governor John Kasich.
(Editing by Greg McCune and Cynthia Osterman)