Strengthen Rules For Captive Wildlife
By JENNIFER HOBGOOD
The Tampa Tribune
Published: September 10, 2008
With a series of storms potentially battering Florida, advances made since Hurricane Katrina to provide safe shelter for pets are evident. But what if the pet is a monkey or the animals housed in a neighborhood are lions and tigers?
In August, a lion and tiger escaped from their cages at a Palm Beach County exotic animal facility - possibly due to Tropical Storm Fay. They were recaptured and fortunately no one was hurt. But there's no telling what might have happened with these powerful predators on the prowl. Since 2001, 11 people have been killed in the United States by captive big cats - more than one person per year.
When Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami in 1992, thousands of animals got loose out of research centers and exotic animal breeding facilities, from monkeys to lizards. Many were still at large 10 years later, with indeterminate impacts on the environment.
No precise figure is available for how many wild animals are kept in private hands in the United States, but estimates include 15,000 primates and about as many big cats. Accredited zoos and responsible sanctuaries house only a small share of these animals. The rest often live in deplorable conditions in roadside exhibits, traveling shows, pseudo-sanctuaries, basements and backyards.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will consider captive wildlife issues at its Sept. 17 meeting. The Humane Society of the United States strongly supports the changes being proposed, but they don't go far enough.
For instance, Florida already prohibits lions, tigers and leopards as pets, and we agree with the proposal to add cheetahs and panthers to the list. Similarly, Florida prohibits some primates such as chimpanzees as pets. But the state allows other primates such as monkeys, despite the risks. At least 20 states prohibit primates as pets, and Florida should join them.
The FWC also is proposing requirements for wildlife sanctuaries, closing a regulatory loophole. The commission already issues permits for commercial operations that keep dangerous wild animals, but does not have a permit system for true sanctuaries, which do not exhibit, breed, buy or sell animals.
The proposed rules include an important provision to prohibit public contact with wildlife at sanctuaries. The ban on public contact should be extended to exhibitors as well. Allowing contact such as photo opportunities with tiger cubs creates a market for cubs, who have no place to go when they grow too large and aggressive to handle. Animals who would cover a 100-mile range in the wild instead spend their lives pacing in cramped cages, ticking time bombs in our communities.
The FWC is grappling with a multitude of other problems from the green iguanas invading South Florida to keeping dangerous wild animals out of residential neighborhoods. More information and an opportunity to comment are available at humanesociety.org/floridaexotics.
First responders to natural disasters have enough to do without having to deal with wild animals kept in untrained hands. To protect both public safety and animal welfare, wild animals should not be pets. They belong in the wild.
Jennifer Hobgood, Ph.D., is Florida director for the Humane Society of the United States.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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