Update: The governor signed this bill into law on April 14, 2014. It will be effective on July 1, 2014.
Update (March, 2014): We have withdrawn our support of this bill after it was severely weakened through amendments in both the Senate and House. Changes to the bill are reflected in the italicized and stricken portions of the bill description below.
This bill amends the Criminal Law code in the following ways:
Makes changes to the categories exempted from the current prohibition on sale, trade, barter, possess, breed, or exchange of most exotics:
1. Only exhibitors
accredited by AZA or a facility that coordinates with AZA holding a Class C exhibitor’s license under the Animal Welfare Act qualify for this exemption.
Adds a prohibition on public contact with animals to the definition of a sanctuary.
3. Adds circuses with a USDA Class C Exhibitor’s license to the list of exempted facilities, provided that they do not allow public contact.
4. The holder of a Class C Exhibitor’s license
may not import into the state, offer for sale, trade, barter, possess, breed, or exchange any nonhuman primate, bear, lion, tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, snow leopard, jaguar, cheetah, cougar, or a hybrid of one of these animals. may acquire or breed a nonhuman primate, bear, lion, tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, snow leopard, jaguar, cheetah, or cougar or a hybrid of one of these animals if the holder meets certain requirements.
Maryland law prohibits the private possession of certain dangerous wild animals, including big cats, bears, and primates. However, a loophole allows many exotic pet owners and unqualified facilities to continue to keep, breed, and acquire these species by obtaining a USDA license. A recent report by the Humane Society of the United States uncovered serious animal welfare and public safety concerns at three of Maryland's roadside zoos (USDA licensed facilities). These problems included violations related to attacks, escapes, and inadequate veterinary care. This bill would address the loophole by prohibiting unaccredited roadside zoos from keeping especially dangerous wild animals.
The amended bill is far weaker than the original version for several reasons. It removes the requirement that exhibitors be accredited by the AZA in order to be exempted from the prohibitions on exotic animals, and instead states that anyone with a Class C exhibitor's license from the USDA will be exempted. A Class C exhibitor's license represents the bare minimum of animal welfare and public safety standards that an exhibitor is expected to meet. The amendments also remove the ban on public contact (such as photo ops with wild animals), and the requirement to immediately report potential exposure to zoonotic diseases. We hope that the Virginia legislature reintroduces a much stronger version of this bill in 2015.