One proposal calls for an outright ban on dangerous critters; another suggests a permit system.
By JENNIFER JACOBS
REGISTER STAFF WRITER
Published February 27, 2007
After learning that an African lion, two cougars, a macaque monkey, two adult bears and a bear cub were being kept as pets at a rural Adair County home in 2005, the sheriff called animal rescue officials.
"He wanted me to come and check for neglect or cruelty, and we didn't see that," said Josh Colvin, cruelty intervention coordinator for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.
However, Colvin said, he was concerned because the cougars were pacing and seemed agitated, the caged cub had what appeared to be a nervous habit of chewing on its own leg, the lion was in a structure that didn't seem secure, and the monkey was allowed to roam the countryside during the day.
But because it's legal in many parts of Iowa for people to own exotic animals, animal rescue workers couldn't do anything to intervene, Colvin said Monday.
There are now two proposals before the Legislature that could change that.
One is an outright ban on "dangerous wild animals." The other calls for a permit system for a smaller number of animals.
Under House Study Bill 169 and a companion bill, Senate File 135, Iowans would be prohibited from buying or breeding wolves, coyotes, jackals, hyenas, lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, cheetahs, ocelots, bears, pandas, rhinoceroses, elephants, alligators, crocodiles, venomous snakes, certain constrictors such as pythons and anacondas, and "primates other than humans."
Existing owners could keep their animals if they pay a registration fee, but Sonja Miller of Greenfield said she worries the fees will be so high she won't be able to afford her monkeys, bobcat and foxes.
"Nobody's going to be able to keep them," said Miller, a retired teacher. "The animal rights people are trying to take them all out of our hands. It's a nasty, nasty bill."
She and her husband, a retired trooper, ran a little zoo on their farm until he suffered heart trouble.
"We have a duty to provide them a home in their retirement, too," she said.
Miller and other members of the Iowa Federation of Animal Owners think a better compromise is House File 333, introduced by Rep. Clel Baudler, a Republican from Adair County.
It would regulate only lions, tigers, bears, pandas, gorillas and chimpanzees, or the offspring of those animals.
Tom Colvin, the executive director of the Animal Rescue League, which prefers the broader bill, House Study Bill 169, said it's become more popular for Iowans to buy wild animals at auction or on the Internet.
"You can get an African lion for $500," Colvin said. "That's the cost of a purebred dog, for Pete's sake."
Wild animals in captivity can spread disease and injure people who come into contact with them, he said. Owners become overwhelmed because the animals have complex needs for their nutritional diet, and for housing and play areas that meet their psychological needs, he said.
In the last four years, the Animal Rescue League had to find sanctuary for a tiger, a mountain lion, a bobcat and several monkeys, Colvin said. Finding a legal home isn't easy; zoos are reluctant to take them because of their unknown health and behavior history, he said.
Reporter Jennifer Janeczko Jacobs can be reached at (515) 284-8127 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Regulating exotic animals
HOUSE STUDY BILL 169/ SENATE FILE 135: The bill bans ownership of a long list of "dangerous wild animals," but it grandfathers in existing animals as long as the owner hasn't been convicted of an animal welfare offense, drug offense or felony. Current owners would have to become licensed by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, pay a registration fee per animal, carry insurance, restrict transportation of the animal, provide proper enclosures and attach an electronic identification device beneath the animal's skin or hide. Accredited wildlife sanctuaries, circuses and zoos would be exempt.
HOUSE FILE 333: Sets up strict licensing requirements for the owners of tigers, lions, bears and a few other animals. Owners would have to pay a fee per animal, carry insurance, restrict transportation of the animal, provide proper enclosures, have a nutrition and veterinarian plan, and use electronic monitoring or alternative form of identification. It would exempt brokers, breeders and exhibitors who are already licensed and regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.