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For Immediate Release: 02/03/12

Born Free USA Leads Historic Initiative Restricting Private Possession of Dangerous Exotic Animals in West Virginia

West Virginia is one of only eight states left (the others being Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Wisconsin) lacking any restriction or oversight for the private possession of exotic animals. Born Free USA, a recognized leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation, is working to put an end to the epidemic of exotic animals as “pets” in this country.

In the aftermath of October’s Zanesville, OH, animal tragedy, Born Free USA and state Senate President Jeffrey Kessler (D-Marshall) have introduced Senate Bill 477, a historic initiative aimed at limiting possession of exotic animals. Only individuals in possession of exotics on the bill’s effective date would be allowed to keep them as long as they first comply with strict safeguards.

According to Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA, “It is time for West Virginia to place strong restrictions on the private possession of exotics. Keeping these animals as a ‘pet’ is inhumane and these animals are incapable of ever being domesticated — they are dangerous to the public, highly unpredictable, and most people cannot provide the care, housing, diet and maintenance they require.”

Despite daily incidents that put animals and the public in danger, people continue to want wild animals as pets, as documented in Born Free USA’s Exotic Animal Incidents Database (www.bornfreeusa.org/database). Roberts explains, “Wild animals belong in the wild, and until there is government action, animals will continue to suffer and people will be put in life-threatening situations. We are grateful to President Kessler for introducing this critical bill.”

"This bill is about protecting the public and the animals," says Kessler. "There is a difference between a Siamese cat and a coyote, a Bernese mountain dog and a mountain lion. Wild animals belong in the wild."

The bill requires the state’s Division of Natural Resources, in consultation with the state Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Public Health, to establish a comprehensive list of exotic animals and to strive to create a database that tracks all exotic animals kept in private possession. All three agencies must work together to develop an emergency response plan for emergent situations involving exotic animals.

Only individuals in possession of exotics on the effective date of the new law would be allowed to keep exotics as long as they apply, on an annual basis, for a permit and abide by strict safeguards, including certifying that they have not been convicted of local or state cruelty, neglect, or other animal mistreatment charges; obtaining liability insurance; having a plan for the quick and safe recapture of the animal should it escape; providing cost of the animal’s placement and care if confiscated by authorities; and notifying the state when care can no longer be provided for the animal.

Born Free USA’s Exotic Animal Incidents database includes several incidents in West Virginia. For example, in Pocahontas County there was a case that involved a tiger who escaped from his enclosure, and then was shot and killed by his possessor. Another incident involved a child in Huntington who suffered injuries after being bitten by a pet capuchin monkey.

Roberts says: “Every year captive exotic animals are involved in incidents that result in human injury or death. How many more incidents and state resources will it take before West Virginia makes a change? In order to protect children, communities and the animals themselves, statewide legislation is needed.”

Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Through litigation, legislation and public education, Born Free USA leads vital campaigns against animals in entertainment, exotic “pets,” trapping and fur, and the destructive international wildlife trade. Born Free USA brings to the United States the message of “compassionate conservation” — the vision of the United Kingdom-based Born Free Foundation, established in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the iconic film “Born Free,” along with their son Will Travers, now chief executive officer of both organizations. Born Free’s mission is to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation globally.

More at www.bornfreeusa.org; on Twitter at http://twitter.com/bornfreeusa; and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BornFreeUSA.

Media Contact: Rodi Rosensweig, publicrelations@bornfreeusa.org, (203) 270-8929.

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