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For Immediate Release: 03/30/12

Bill Introduced in U.S. House to End Trade in Primates as ‘Pets’

Born Free USA, the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund commend U.S. Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., for introducing H.R. 4306, the Captive Primate Safety Act, which amends the Lacey Act to prohibit interstate commerce in monkeys, apes and other nonhuman primates for the exotic pet trade.

The risk of keeping primates as pets has been illustrated time and time again, including the 2009 attack by a pet chimpanzee viciously mauling and disfiguring a Connecticut woman, who as a result required a full face transplant surgery. Last October in Zanesville, Ohio, a macaque monkey suspected of carrying herpes-B was released — along with around 50 other dangerous exotic “pets” — by the owner of a private menagerie who then shot himself. While people cowered indoors and schools closed, law enforcement was forced to spend valuable resources hunting down escaped animals.

Since 1990, more than 200 people — including dozens of children — have been injured by primates, and many more incidents likely went unreported. Primates also pose disease risks, including transmission of Ebola, tuberculosis and herpes-B.

“Until Congress takes action, dangerous primates will continue to be sold over the Internet and this trafficking will put communities at risk across the country. These highly social and intelligent creatures deserve better than to languish in bedrooms and basements,” said Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer of the Humane Society of the United States. “We are grateful to Congressmen Fitzpatrick and Blumenauer for working to pass this urgently needed public safety and animal welfare measure.”

In 2003, the Captive Wildlife Safety Act was signed into law to prohibit interstate commerce in lions, tigers and other big cats as pets. Because primates face similar inhumane treatment and pose similar threats to public health and safety, animal protection advocates seek to add them to the list of species prohibited in commercial trade.

“The stories about chimpanzees harming not just their owners, but also innocent bystanders, grab headlines and tend to be widely reported. However, even smaller primates can carry disease and potentially pose a threat to public health and well-being,” said Fitzpatrick. “This law is about protecting the public as well as the animals who are often trafficked under very inhumane circumstances.”

“The last few years demonstrate the continued need for a strengthening of the Lacey Act in many areas, particularly when dealing with large primates, whose at times deadly impact on their human companions has been documented too many times in the past three years,” said Blumenauer. “Preventing these tragedies going forward should be a key priority for this Congress, and I look forward to working with Rep. Fitzpatrick on the House side and Senator Boxer on the Senate side to protect our public health and safety.”

“The recent tragedy in Ohio put a spotlight on the enormous danger and suffering involved when exotic animals are kept in private possession,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA. “Yet, even after this incident and many more, the captive primate trade continues to flourish. There is no excuse for keeping exotics in private hands. Congress must pass the Captive Primate Safety Act now.”

Roughly half of the states already prohibit private possession of primates as pets, but primates are easily obtained via the Internet and through out-of-state dealers and auctions, making federal legislation necessary to support the efforts of state law enforcement.

The Captive Primate Safety Act is narrowly crafted to target the commerce in and private possession of primates, and would not impact zoos, universities or wildlife sanctuaries. Born Free USA, the HSUS and HSLF are calling on Congress to move the legislation expeditiously so it can be signed into law this year. This legislation was approved by the full House and by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during the last congressional session, but was not enacted into law.

A Senate version of the Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 1324, was introduced last July by U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., David Vitter, R-La., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

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 North America the message of “compassionate conservation” — the vision of the U.K.-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.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund is a social welfare organization incorporated under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code and formed in 2004 as a separate lobbying affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States. The HSLF works to pass animal protection laws at the state and federal level, to educate the public about animal protection issues and to support humane candidates for office. On the Web at hslf.org.

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