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For Immediate Release: 02/23/06

Dangerous Exotic “Pets” Can’t Escape National Spotlight

New investigation documents brazen disregard for animal care, public safety, and the law

Sacramento, CA — The Animal Protection Institute (API) today released the results of an extensive investigation into the largely unregulated private ownership of exotic wild animals kept as “pets” or used as “attractions” at roadside zoos and menageries. The video footage and accompanying report are the most thorough on record and expose disturbing evidence of a lack of concern for public safety and animal welfare by both private owners and federally-licensed facilities across the nation. Major findings included:

  • the widespread practice of organized “close encounters” where the public pays to have direct contact with dangerous animals, a violation of federal law
  • reckless behavior, putting owners and others, including children, in danger of attack
    an alarming number of previously unreported injuries and attacks by exotic animals on owners and others
  • poor care and treatment causing suffering and distress to animals
  • cruel and inappropriate treatment and handling of exotic animals, including the bizarre spectacle of a “primate picnic” where owners proudly displayed monkeys dressed in human children’s clothes
  • an apparent disregard of various provisions of federal law by some facilities licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

“API’s investigation has shown that the few regulations on private ownership of exotic animals that do exist fail to protect the public from the dangers these animals pose, and do little to protect the welfare of the animals themselves,” says Michelle Thew, Chief Executive Officer of API. “These exotic wild animals do not belong in our homes or neighborhoods. Action has to be taken now to put an end to the private ownership of exotic animals before another tragedy occurs.”

Across the country, millions of exotic animals are privately owned as “pets” or kept as “attractions” in roadside zoos and menageries — from lions, tigers and cougars to wolves, bears, dangerous reptiles, and monkeys. In the past year alone, there have been dozens of attacks by exotic animals, including:

  • an 80-year-old Illinois man killed by a loose bear at a former petting zoo (February 2006)
  • a 17-year-old Kansas girl killed by a privately owned Siberian tiger during a photo shoot for her high school senior portrait (August 2005)
  • a 12-year-old Minnesota boy’s spine was severed after being attacked by a lion and tiger at an auto parts store where the animals were being kept as “pets” (June 2005)
  • the severe mauling of a California man, whose face, genitals and fingers were mutilated by chimpanzees at a state-licensed facility (March 2005)

API is a leader in the campaign to end the private ownership of exotic animals and has played a key role in state and local efforts to prohibit the possession of such animals. This ground-breaking investigation has been launched at a crucial time, as the dangers posed by exotic animals continue to hit the headlines and important legislative initiatives are currently being introduced and debated in a number of key states.

“Across the nation, dangerous dogs are more regulated than these dangerous wild animals. This is an accident waiting to happen,” says Thew.

API is a national nonprofit animal advocacy organization working to end animal cruelty and exploitation through legislation, litigation, and public education. API also manages a 186-acre Primate Sanctuary that is currently home to more than 400 primates, many of whom were rescued from abusive or exploitative private ownership situations. For more information, visit www.api4animals.org.


A press kit including report highlights, DVD B-roll and report, or still images on CD are available upon request; email press@api4animals.org.

Zibby Wilder, Animal Protection Institute (API), 916-447-3085 x205

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