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Illinois Legislation

Sponsor(s): Rep. Michael J. Zalewski (D-23)

H.B. 5940 Alters Rules for Ownership of Exotic Animals [2014]

Update (May 16, 2014): This bill failed to pass before the deadline, and so it is dead.

Update (March, 2014): Two amendments made in the House Judiciary Committee significantly weakened this bill. See the italicized and stricken portions of the Bill Description for more details.

Bill Description:
This bill amends the statute on ownership of "dangerous animals," which are defined as a lion, tiger, leopard, ocelot, jaguar, cheetah, margay, mountain lion, lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, bear, hyena, wolf or coyote, or any poisonous or life-threatening reptile.

  • This bill defines "Animal refuge."
  • It prohibits any person from allowing a member of the public to come into direct contact with a dangerous animal.
  • It alters the exemptions to the prohibition on possessing dangerous animals to specify that only the zoos that would be exempt would be ones accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
  • It exempts all zoological parks that are AZA accredited and/or operated by a municipality, county, forest preserve district, or this State from the prohibition on possessing dangerous animals.
  • It exempts motion picture or television production companies from the prohibition on possessing dangerous animals.
  • It clarifies that the prohibition on possessing dangerous animals does not prohibit a person who possesses a Class C exhibitor license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture from possessing a dangerous animal or primate; however, after June 1, 2014 the person may not breed or otherwise acquire a dangerous animal other than an ocelot, margay, lynx, bobcat, jaguarundi, hyena, wolf or coyote, or any poisonous or life-threatening reptile.
  • Background:
    Check out our page about exotic pets for more info on the inherent animal welfare and public safety issues associated with private exotic ownership.

    By stipulating that only AZA accredited zoos may own "dangerous animals" in Illinois, this bill would have prohibited unaccredited roadside zoos from owning and exhibiting these animals. Roadside zoos are exploitative wildlife attractions — ranging from backyard menageries to so-called “sanctuaries,” to drive-through parks — most of which display various species of captive wildlife for a fee. Disguised as conservation, educational, or rescue facilities, roadside zoos and menageries are among the worst abusers of captive wildlife. Among the more benign discoveries, inspectors frequently documented animals being kept in cramped, dirty cages, often surrounded by trash. Read more about these horrific facilities here.

    The amendments significantly weaken this bill. The amendments remove the requirement that exhibitors be accredited by the AZA in order to be exempted from the prohibitions on exotic animals. The amendments also remove the ban on public contact (such as photo ops with wild animals). We hope that the Illinois legislature reintroduces a much stronger version of this bill in 2015.

    Read the full text here.

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