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Our Exotic Animal Investigation

2007 UPDATE: The following investigation was conducted in 2005. Using the evidence gathered as support, API was able to successfully pass legislation in Washington State in 2007 that prohibits the future possession and breeding of certain exotic animals such as large cats, bears, wolves, nonhuman primates, and dangerous reptiles. This report contains findings from before the 2007 law was put in place.

In response to the critical threats that the private ownership of exotic animals pose to animal welfare and public safety, API launched a groundbreaking investigation, including a comprehensive report (Acrobat PDF) and recommendations for steps that lawmakers and communities must take to address this urgent issue.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2005, we investigated private homes and federally-licensed roadside zoos and menageries that housed exotic animals in North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington — three states that then had no laws addressing the private ownership of such animals. (In 2007 the state of Washington passed such a law.)

Bear in Cage
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Our investigators focused on the safety issues surrounding how these animals were kept, such as incidents involving attacks and injuries to people allowed contact with animals. We also examined how owners provided for the needs of exotic animals by analyzing, among other things, how the animals were housed, what type of enrichment was provided, and whether the animals were allowed direct contact with others of their kind.

Our investigation has revealed disturbing new evidence — evidence that demonstrates just how critical it is that lawmakers and communities take up the issue of private exotic animal ownership nationwide.

We uncovered the shocking conditions in which exotic animals are kept, the suffering they endure, and the inadequate and inappropriate care and treatment they receive, as well as the real threats that exotic animals pose to public safety. Especially troubling is the fact that the majority of instances of inadequate care and treatment did not violate any current federal law or respective state law.

Examples of the serious public safety and animal welfare problems we found include:

Dangerous Public Contact:

The offering of "close encounters" in which the public were allowed to have direct contact with dangerous animals; ineffective barriers to protect the public from having direct contact with the animals.

Child Endangerment:

Children placed at risk of attacks and injuries from dangerous exotic animals in private homes and at facilities open to the public.

Reckless Behavior:

Owners placing the public and themselves at risk through irresponsible behavior with dangerous animals.

Animal Attacks:

Reports of attacks and injuries inflicted by exotic animals on owners and others.

Poor Conditions:

Animals kept in inadequate conditions, including pens that were too small, lacked adequate shelter from the elements, and that failed to allow animals to express normal, species-specific behaviors.

Lack of Enrichment:

Pens that were barren or lacked appropriate structures and furnishings and did little, if anything, to provide a natural environment for the animals, resulting in dysfunctional and stereotypical behaviors.

Lack of Companionship:

Animals who were housed in solitary confinement, denied contact with others of their kind.

Cruel and Inappropriate Treatment:

Animals handled roughly and inappropriately; animals who had teeth and claws surgically removed; nonhuman primates treated like human children; animals left to roam inside houses.


The continual breeding of certain species to provide a constant supply of young animals as attractions and for photo opportunities.

Note: In order to protect the anonymity of the private exotic animal owners mentioned in this report, we refer to these owners using a coding system, rather than names.

All video/images: © API / R&D

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