Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Local lawmakers said Thursday they would consider a bill before the West Virginia House of Delegates restricting the ownership of some species of “exotic” or “dangerous” animals.
House Bill 2209 is designed to limit sales, trading, and breeding of “potentially dangerous wild animals” including lions, tigers, cougars, jaguars, cheetahs, leopards, wolves, bears, hyenas, primates, elephants, crocodiles, alligators and some species of poisonous snakes including cobras, coral snakes, puff adders, rattlesnakes and cottonmouths.
Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said controlling exotic animals is reasonable, but he does not feel exotic animal ownership is highly prevalent in southern West Virginia.
“Frankly, it doesn’t seem to me to be unreasonable that there be some control over people owning these kinds of animals,” Gearheart said. “I don’t know if this will gain any traction. I don’t know anyone who wants to have a tiger living next to them, and this bill seems to accomplish a lot regarding that. It is specific about who can take care of these animals, such as zoos. It has a whole group of folks who can take care of these animals but does preclude ownership in a home without some sort of oversight. It does make allowances for some conditions. I think it is a reasonable proposal, but I have never considered it before since I don’t really see us having much of an issue.”
Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, said the Division of Natural Resources does already have some measures in place to protect the public from exotic animals.
“I don’t have a lot of opinion on this one way or the other,” Moore said. “I know this bill came up in a similar form last year, but the Division of Natural Resources said we already had laws in place to keep these things under control. Predicated upon what the DNR said, we do have measures in place already to make sure these things don’t happen in West Virginia. There are some species the DNR has listed as exotic and dangerous. I’m sure there are people who have these animals, but I don’t think they have them in large quantities. I am not sure how I would vote for it. If this bill comes up for a vote, I would look at the bill more in detail. I must believe the DNR folks, however, when they say these issues are already taken care of.”
Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said he can understand why big cats and poisonous snakes would be a public safety concern.
“Just on the initial look, I don’t have a problem with it,” Ellington said. “I do agree there should be some control mechanisms for wild and exotic animals. There are a lot of exceptions in here that would allow zoos, fairs, circuses and veterinary offices can continue to own them. It is mainly limited private ownership, which I could see creating problems. Large animals like lions, tigers and venomous snakes could be a potential problem. I don’t know of many people in Mercer County who own these dangerous animals. I have heard of people owning llamas and things like that, but I don’t think there are many animals you could consider dangerous.”
Ellington said he does not want to see the bill become too prohibitive.
“I do know there are some laws already in place to protect people from these dangerous animals as well,” he said. “I personally don’t have a problem with them regulating these animals or making sure the county is aware of these animals so some plan can be in effect. I don’t want to make it too prohibitive, but you have to look at the protection of the public in some cases. I could support this, but I will be taking a closer look at it if it does come on the floor for a vote.”
Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, is sponsoring the bill, which he said is the result of a 2011 incident in Zanesville, Ohio. The owner of approximately 50 wild and exotic animals freed them into the city and the animals had to be put down or coralled by police for public safety.
“This bill was recycled from last year that made it through committee and had several amendments to it,” Manypenny said. “We mainly looked at animals that could pass on contagions or animals that are venomous in nature. We aren’t trying exclude all animals but rather venomous reptiles that could injure or kill someone. We are not trying to keep people from having pets. Many of these animals are not suited to be domesticated.”
Manypenny said the bill would allow exemptions for zoos and wildlife sanctuaries.
“One thing that is included is a registry of existing animal sanctuaries or small zoos,” he said. “It would keep new people from starting new zoos without registering or keeping a tiger as a pet. We have a sanctuary protecting wolves and mountain lions in Taylor County that is registered with the DNR, but others haven’t or have not had to. This would create a registry so t he DNR could go out and make sure all of the fencing or cages containing the animals is adequate for the species. There would be a small fee to cover the cost of the inspector to go out on an annual or semiannual basis to make sure the code is enforced. We are trying to create responsible and practical legislation.”
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