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The Status of Captive Wild Animals in the U.S.: An Overview of the Problem and the Laws

By Nicole Paquette
Source: Animal Law Institute Conference - Dallas, TX

IX. Future Trends to Help Captive Wild Animals

The only way to stop the proliferation of captive wild animals is to stop the breeding, bartering, sale, and possession of captive wild animals for personal profit and amusement and by educating the public to understand that wild animals belong in the wild, not in our homes. Thus, we need stronger laws on all levels that address these issues.

Obviously, there are numerous laws that exist to help captive wild animals on the federal, state and local levels, but they are not consistent with each other. We need to set into place uniform laws that will provide these animals with the protection they deserve.

Numerous states and cities are introducing legislation relating to private possession, roadside zoos, menageries and circuses. For the past three legislative sessions (2000, 2001, 2002), we have seen an increase in introduced legislation relating to captive wild animals. The legislatures all across the country are realizing that this is an issue that needs to be debated in a public forum and are passing laws. Many bills seek to prohibit and regulate private possession of captive wild animals and roadside zoos. Many cities and states have introduced legislation prohibiting certain captive wild animals from being exhibited and regulating the circus industry.

Table 2: Recent Victories for Captive Wild Animals

2000

  • The state of Michigan passed a law prohibiting the private possession of large cats, bears, and wolf-hybrids.
  • Chesterfield, MI; St. Paul Park, MN; Rochester, NY; Battle Ground, WA; and Spokane WA all banned private possession of certain captive wild animals.
  • Corona, CA and Pompano Beach, FL banned animal acts in traveling shows and circuses.

2001

  • The state of Indiana amended its law regulating certain captive wild animals as “pets,” thereby providing more protection for these animals.
  • The state of Texas passed a law regulating certain captive wild animals as “pets,” which ultimately had the effect of many counties prohibiting the possession altogether.
  • Boulder, CO; South Whitehall Township, PA; Fannin County, TX; and Port Townsend, WA all banned private possession of certain captive wild animals.
  • Pasadena, CA; Boulder, CO; Braintree, MA; Orange County, NC; and Port Townsend, WA all banned animal acts in traveling shows and circuses.

2002

  • In Ohio, Austintown and Cleveland both banned private possession of certain captive wild animals.
  • Encinitas, CA; Rohnert Park, CA; Provincetown, MA; Richmond, MO; and Greenburg, NY all banned animal acts in traveling shows and circuses.

Legislation has a powerful effect on the various industries and we are making headway. Weekly these issues are in the newspapers and the public is starting to realize the inherent cruelty in all of these practices.

The current legislative session (2003) has also seen an increase in the number of bills regulating or restricting possession of captive wild animals in all venues. On the Federal level, Congress is currently considering H.R. 1006 and S. 269, which would amend the Lacey Act to prohibit the interstate transport and shipment large cats for use as “pets,” although it would not actually ban all private possession of these animals.

On the state level, there are several introduced bills that are attempting to prohibit private possession of exotic animals as “pets,” the display of these animals at roadside menageries, and the display of elephants, lions, tigers, and bears at circuses or traveling shows.

Table 3: 2003 Legislative Attempts to Prohibit Private Possession and Display at Roadside Menageries

State Proposed Legislation
Arkansas Prohibits future possession of large carnivores. Persons possessing these animals prior to the effective date of the act will be allowed to keep the animal provided that the possessor obtains a permit and complies with the provisions of the bill.
Minnesota Prohibits future possession of prohibited animals as “pets” and prohibits display of these animals at roadside menageries. Prohibited animals are wild cats, bears, and non-human primates. Persons possessing these animals prior to the effective date of the act will be allowed to keep the animal provided that the possessor registers the animal with local animal control and complies with the provisions of the bill.
New York Prohibits future possession of wild cats, wolves, bears, non-human primates, and dangerous reptiles. Persons possessing these animals prior to the effective date of the act will be allowed to keep the animal provided that the possessor obtains a permit and complies with the provisions of the bill.
Oregon Prohibits future possession of exotic animals as “pets” and prohibits display of these animals at roadside menageries. Exotic animals are defined as wild cats, non-human primates, bears, wolves, venomous reptiles, alligators, and crocodiles. Possessors who currently possess exotic animals will be permitted to keep the exotic animal if they are in compliance with this chapter, but no new exotic animal other than those possessed prior to the effective date of this act shall be brought into possession under authority of a personal possession permit in the state of Oregon.
Washington Prohibits future possession of potentially dangerous wild animals as “pets” and prohibits display of these animals at roadside menageries. Potentially dangerous wild animals are defined as large cats, non-human primates, bears, wolves, venomous reptiles, alligators, and crocodiles. Possessors who currently possess potentially dangerous wild animals will be permitted to keep the potentially dangerous wild animal if they are in compliance with this chapter, but no new potentially dangerous wild animal other than those possessed prior to the effective date of this act shall be brought into possession under authority of a personal possession permit in the state of Washington.

 

The Animal Protection Institute actively writes and introduces legislation in states that do not currently have any prohibitions on the private possession of captive wild animals as “pets,” roadside menageries, and circuses and traveling shows. API also works with cities on passing ordinances in these areas. In fact, we are helping with the majority of the 2003 legislative attempts and API has model legislation and ordinances to help captive wild animals in all areas.31

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