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Our groundbreaking investigation into the private possession of exotic animals has demonstrated clearly the need for urgent action to be taken to end this dangerous trade.
Faced with the evidence uncovered by this investigation, and the rising tide of attacks and injuries nationwide, we are calling for four key steps to be taken as a matter of priority:
- States must act now to pass laws that ensure that the private ownership of exotic animals is prohibited.
- The breeding, selling, and display of exotic animals at roadside zoos and menageries must end.
- The public must be educated about the public safety threats and animal welfare concerns associated with roadside zoos and exotic animals in private hands, and be shown that wild animals do not belong in private hands.
- Where exotic animals cannot be transferred to a genuine sanctuary, existing owners must, at a minimum, increase the standard of care being provided to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals and the public.
Tackling the scale and extent of the problem will require action from legislators, existing exotic animal owners, and the general public. We have formulated a set of recommendations that need to be acted upon if the urgent animal welfare and public safety concerns that result from the private ownership of exotic animals in the United States are to be addressed.
Recommendations for Legislators
The private ownership of exotic animals represents a real danger to families, neighbors, communities, and the public at large, as well as to the animal themselves.
In many states, people are allowed to keep exotic animals in their homes and backyards, as well as collect them to display at roadside zoos and menageries without any restrictions or with only minimal oversight. The exotic animal industry is well aware of the dangers these animals pose to the public, yet continues to lobby for private exotic animal ownership.
Given the serious problems involved with the private ownership of exotic animals, it is critical that states address this issue and work towards passing strong legislation. Laws must be passed to prohibit the ownership of exotic animals as "pets" and at roadside zoos and menageries.
Currently, state laws addressing the keeping of exotic animals are inconsistent with each other — varying from type of restriction to the type of species being regulated. Strong and comprehensive laws must be introduced and passed in all the states that currently do not prohibit private ownership of exotic animals. Further, the laws that are currently in existence must at the very least prohibit ownership of the most dangerous exotic animals, such as wild felines, wolves, bears, nonhuman primates, and dangerous reptiles.
Another critical issue that needs to be addressed is that in cities and states that do have bans, partial bans, or permitting and licensing requirements, individuals often sidestep the law by obtaining a USDA license. These individuals claim to be animal exhibitors or breeders, thereby circumventing state exotic "pet" laws. State and local laws on the possession of exotic "pets" usually exempt people who hold a USDA license from the provisions of the law. This is a huge loophole that is being exploited to the detriment of the public and the animals. USDA-licensed facilities must not be exempted from coverage of legislation.
Born Free USA is a leader in the campaign to end the private ownership of exotic animals and is committed to continuing its efforts until exotic animals are protected nationwide. We have worked with state and local legislatures across the country and have played a major role in efforts to prohibit the private possession of exotic animals. We have model legislation that we tailor to each state and expertise and experience that have been utilized by states nationwide.
We look forward to assisting legislators in addressing this issue at a state and local level.
Recommendations for Individuals
Individual members of the public play a key role in working to end the tragedy of private ownership of exotic animals in communities nationwide. From personal choices and public education to involvement in passing strong laws, individuals can make a difference. People concerned about the private ownership of exotic animals can take the following steps:
- Do not buy exotic animals as "pets." Educate family and friends about the animal welfare problems and safety concerns related to the private ownership of exotic animals.
- Speak out if an exotic animal is observed running loose, injuring people, damaging property, living in deplorable conditions, or being abused. If an animal is in these circumstances, or is being kept in violation of city, county, and/or state law, report it to the appropriate animal control agency and the police or sheriff's department.
- Do not visit or patronize roadside zoos and menageries or disingenuous "sanctuaries" that breed or display animals for profit.
- If state, city, or county law does not already prohibit private possession of exotic animals, contact state and local lawmakers and urge them to introduce such legislation.
- Get involved. Support legislation at all levels to ban the private ownership of exotic animals.
- Write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper describing why exotic animals belong in the wild and not in homes and backyards.
Recommendations for Existing Exotic Animal Owners
When state legislation has been passed to prohibit exotic animals in private hands, the animals currently in possession have generally remained with the individual owner for the animal's lifetime. Where exotic animals cannot be transferred to a genuine sanctuary, therefore, it is critical that existing owners must, as a minimum, increase the standard of care being provided to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals and the public.
The life conditions for the exotic animals currently in private hands must be drastically improved. We call upon existing exotic animal owners to ensure that the following minimum steps are implemented:
- An end to the de-clawing and/or de-fanging of exotic animals.
- An end to the breeding and sale of exotic animals and an end to their public display for profit.
- The provision of appropriate enclosure space that allows the animal to engage in normal behaviors that are common for the species in the wild.
- The provision of shelter from all types of elements and rich and varied species-appropriate enrichment.
- The placing of social animals with animals of their own species and an end to solitary confinement.
- The provision of barriers between the animals and individuals/general public, ensuring that direct contact is precluded.
- The provision of enclosures/pens with locks that can not be picked or opened by animals or the public, and a well-constructed perimeter fence around the enclosures.
- Ensuring that children are not allowed near exotic animals.
- An end to all direct contact with exotic animals, including display and photo opportunities.
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