PA 09-198—sHB 6552

Environment Committee

Judiciary Committee

AN ACT BANNING THE POSSESSION OF POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS ANIMALS AND THE IMPORTATION, POSSESSION AND LIBERATION OF WILD ANIMALS.

SUMMARY: This act makes changes (1) in the law banning potentially dangerous animals and (2) affecting Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations for owning and importing wildlife, among other things.

It increases the penalty for illegally owning a potentially dangerous animal, and adds the following primates: gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and other members of the hominidae family (great apes and humans) to those animals considered potentially dangerous. It exempts from the ban (1) certain institutions and (2) primates weighing less than 35 pounds at maturity and imported into the state or owned before October 1, 2003. It eliminates an exemption for people who legally owned a potentially dangerous animal on or before May 23, 1983. It requires owners of legally allowed primates of any size to get a DEP permit, irrespective of when they acquired the animals.

By law, with certain exceptions, no one may import, possess, or release in the state a live fish, wild bird or mammal, reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate without a DEP permit. The act eliminates an exemption and increases the penalty for violating this law. It requires, rather than allows, DEP to adopt regulations (1) determining the (a) species that must meet permit requirements and (b) number and species of fish, birds, and animals that DEP will permit to be imported or introduced into, or owned or released in, the state and (2) exempting from permit requirements municipal parks and certain other organizations and institutions.

It prohibits anyone from operating, providing, selling, using, or offering to operate, provide, sell, or use any computer software or service in the state that allows someone, when not physically present, to remotely control a firearm or other weapon to hunt a live animal or bird. (This type of hunting is commonly referred to as Internet hunting. ) A violation is a class A misdemeanor (see Table on Penalties).

Finally, it allows anyone to import reindeer into the state between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day, provided they are (1) individually identified, (2) certified to be in good health, and (3) exported from the state by January 8 of each year.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2009, except the reindeer provision, which is effective July 1, 2009.

SPECIES CONSIDERED POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS

By law, members of the following wildlife species, or any hybrid of them, are considered potentially dangerous:

1. lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundis, pumas (mountain lions), lynxes, and bobcats;

2. wolves and coyotes; and

3. black, brown, and grizzly bears.

Under the act, species of the hominidae family, including gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans, also are considered potentially dangerous, and thus illegal to own. The act specifically exempts from the definition of a potentially dangerous animal a primate imported into the state or owned before October 1, 2003 if the animal weighs less than 35 pounds when fully grown. People may own primates not listed as potentially dangerous regardless of their weight or the date they were owned or imported into the state, provided they get a DEP permit (see below).

ILLEGAL POSSESSION OF A DANGEROUS ANIMAL

Under prior law, anyone who illegally owned a potentially dangerous animal was subject to a maximum $1,000 fine, and the DEP commissioner had to bill the owner for the costs of seizing, caring for, maintaining, or disposing of the animal. The commissioner could ask the attorney general to sue in Superior Court to recover the penalty and any amounts owed.

The act (1) increases the maximum fine to $2,000, (2) allows the commissioner also to relocate the animal and bill the owner for the costs of relocating it, and (3) allows her also to ask the attorney general to seek appropriate equitable and injunctive relief. Each violation continues to be a separate and distinct offense, and in the case of a continuing violation, each day is considered a separate and distinct offense.

The act makes willful violation of this law a class A misdemeanor (see Table on Penalties).

Other Exemptions

By law, the prohibition against owning potentially dangerous animals does not apply to municipal parks, zoos, nature centers, museums, laboratories and research facilities maintained by scientific or educational institutions, and others. Under the act, municipal parks and zoos must be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Zoological Association of America to be exempt. The act also exempts (1) public, nonprofit aquariums and (2) exhibitors licensed or registered with the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It requires that, to be exempt, laboratories and research facilities maintained by scientific or educational institutions must be licensed or registered with the USDA.

But the act eliminates an exemption for people who legally possessed a potentially dangerous animal before May 23, 1983.

ILLEGALLY IMPORTING WILDLIFE INTO THE STATE

The law requires anyone importing, introducing, possessing, or liberating any live fish, wild bird, wild mammal, reptile, amphibian, or invertebrate in the state, to have a DEP permit. The act eliminates an exemption for people who imported or owned, before October 1, 2003, a member of a primate species weighing up to 50 pounds at maturity. The act thus requires owners of a primate of any size and species (other than a gorilla, chimpanzee, or orangutan, which the act bans) to obtain a permit unless the commissioner determines otherwise by regulation.

The act requires, rather than allows, DEP to adopt regulations determining the (1) number and species of fish, birds, and animals that may be imported or introduced into, or owned or released in, the state, and (2) species of birds and animals that must meet permit requirements.

By law, DEP may adopt regulations exempting from permit requirements zoos, research laboratories, colleges and universities, public nonprofit aquariums, and nature centers that strictly confine these animals, birds, or fish. The act requires, rather than allows, DEP to adopt these regulations, as well as similar regulations for municipal parks and museums. It eliminates the blanket exemption for colleges and universities, requiring instead that DEP exempt only laboratories and research facilities maintained by scientific or educational institutions.

Seizure and Disposal of Illegally Imported Animals

Prior law required DEP to seize an illegally imported or owned fish, bird, or animal and dispose of it as the commissioner determined. The act allows, rather than requires, DEP to seize these animals, and allows the department to relocate them as well as dispose of them. It requires the commissioner to bill the owner or person illegally possessing (but not illegally importing, introducing, or liberating) the animal for the costs of seizing, caring for, maintaining, relocating, or disposing of it.

Under prior law, a violation of the ban on illegally importing, possessing, or releasing these animals, birds, or fish was an infraction. The act instead sets a penalty of up to $1,000, to be set by a court, for each offense. As under current law, each violation is a separate and distinct offense, and, in the event of a continuing violation, each day is deemed a separate and distinct offense. Under the act the commissioner may ask the attorney general to bring an action in Superior Court to recover the civil penalty and any amounts owed for seizing, caring for, maintaining, relocating, or disposing of the fish, bird, or animal, and for an order providing appropriate equitable and injunctive relief.

The act makes it a class C misdemeanor to willfully violate the law or any regulation adopted under it (see Table on Penalties).

REINDEER IMPORTATION

Under the act, each imported reindeer must:

1. be individually identified by a permanent metal ear tag, legible tattoo, or microchip;

2. possess a certified veterinary report documenting an inspection that took place between one and 30 days before entering the state;

3. possess documentation that verifies it (a) comes from a tuberculosis- and brucellosis-free herd or (b) tested negative for these diseases between one and 30 days before entering the state; and

4. possess documentation that the originating herd took part in a state chronic wasting disease (CWD) monitoring program for at least (a) the previous three years if from a state or province not known to have CWD or (b) the previous five years, if from a state or province known to have CWD outbreaks.

PF: DD: SS: DF/ts