In recent years, our nation has witnessed an epidemic of people acquiring exotic wildlife as pets. Wild animals, including lions, tigers, bears, chimpanzees, monkeys, venomous snakes, alligators and other dangerous species are readily available from breeders and even over the Internet. In private hands, these animals often end up in basements, garages or backyards, where their most basic needs are not met. Not only is this cruel to the animals who are forced to live in unnatural circumstances, but keeping wildlife in such close proximity to humans is a public safety nightmare that often results in tragedy.
In the wake of several high-profile incidents, including Zanesville, Ohio, where a man released his private menagerie of big cats, wolves, bears and primates before committing suicide, and the attack on a Connecticut woman, Charla Nash, by a pet chimpanzee, most U.S. states – including New York – have moved in recent years to ban or severely restrict the ownership of many dangerous wild animals.
This week, in a pioneering move that takes into account that the largest wild animals are not the only ones who suffer in captivity or pose a threat to public safety, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed expanding its definition of animals deemed as dangerous to include additional species such as capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, Arctic foxes, Eurasian lynxes, skunks, raccoons and bats, among other animals.
New York’s action follows a growing number of incidents involving dangerous animals who have posed a risk to public safety and the environment, including:
- An incident in July where authorities removed a five-and-a-half-foot alligator and a caiman crammed in a metal dog cage along with 20 turtles from a living room in the town of Wappingers Falls
- An individual who had to be airlifted to a hospital after being bitten by one of the approximately 150 vipers illegally in his possession
- A nine-foot anaconda who escaped from a van in Suffolk County
- Agency seizures of more than 20 dangerous animals including vipers, cobras, rattlesnakes, anacondas, alligators, and caimans in Madison County
Public health is also a serious concern because many wild animal species may be carriers of serious zoonotic diseases. The National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians warns that direct public contact with dangerous animals, such as nonhuman primates and certain carnivores, should be completely prohibited.
We applaud the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for taking this step to expand the restrictions on wild animals as pets, and we hope it will encourage other states to follow suit. Primates and foxes are no better suited to living in homes than a tiger is, and no one needs to keep one as a pet. The agency recently opened public comment for these proposed rule changes, so if you live in New York, please write in and let them know you support expanding the restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous wild animals.