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March 5, 2009

Bill to Ban Wild Animals as Pets Presented to Ore. Legislators

The Humane Society of the United States

PORTLAND — The recent chimpanzee attack in Connecticut demonstrates the need to prohibit possession of wild animals such as primates in Oregon, according to The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA and the Oregon Humane Society. 

The HSUS, Born Free USA and OHS are supporting S.B. 391, introduced by Sens. Mark Hass, D-14, and Brian Boquist, R-23, to prohibit private possession of wild animals in the state, including alligators, monkeys, wolves, lions, tigers and bears.

The Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee is considering the bill at a hearing today.

"The owners of these animals are playing roulette with people's lives," says Nicole G. Paquette, senior vice president and general counsel for Born Free USA. "For the safety of people and animals in Oregon, the legislature must act now to prohibit dangerous wild and exotic animals from being kept in private hands."

Oregon is one of only 22 states that does not prohibit the private possession of exotic animals such as lions, tigers, bears, primates and dangerous reptiles. Across the United States, incidents involving exotic animals, such as the recent mauling of a Connecticut woman by an escaped chimpanzee, reinforce the need for such legislation.

"This legislation will protect both public safety and animal welfare," said Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon state director for The HSUS. "Wild animals can attack, they can spread disease and the average citizen cannot meet their needs in captivity. They belong in the wild. Fortunately, state lawmakers are poised to address this issue, and we urge the committee to pass S.B. 391."

"This legislation makes sense," said Sharon Harmon, OHS executive director. "Wild animals aren't suitable as companion animals. Having a wild animal in your home puts both the animal and the owner at risk of getting injured."

Currently in Oregon a permit is required to possess certain wild animals as pets. S.B. 391 will prohibit future possession of these animals and add alligators, crocodiles and caimans to the list. People who currently have these animals will be able to keep them, but not breed or replace them.

In addition to Sens. Hass and Boquist, the bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Vicki Berger, R-20, Scott Bruun, R-37, Bill Garrard, R-56, Mike Schaufler, D-48, Brad Witt, D-31, and Arnie Roblan, D-9.

At the federal level, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer is the lead author of H.R. 80, the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would ban the interstate commerce in apes, monkeys, lemurs, marmosets and other primates for the pet trade. It would complement state laws on the possession of dangerous exotic animals, since many of these animals are purchased over the Internet and through other interstate instruments. Blumenauer's bill passed the U.S. House overwhelmingly last week by a vote of 323-95, and is now pending in the U.S. Senate.

Previous incidents in Oregon include:

  • A pet alligator escaped from a Gresham home and was found walking along the Springwater Trail in September 2008.
  • The body of a dead three-foot alligator was found in a creek in Douglas County in March 2007.
  • A serval (an African wild cat) escaped from a home near Aurora in November 2006. The animal was recaptured only to escape again on the way home.
  • A pet lynx escaped and jumped on a 6-year-old girl's head in Clackamas County in August 2005.
  • A caiman was returned after three days on the loose in Lane County in June 2005.
  • A 3-year-old girl in Bend was hospitalized after being bitten by a 40-pound exotic cat in her neighbor's yard in September 2002.

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Born Free USA is a leading national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the US and globally. Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader on exotic animal legislation and cares for more than 500 primates, many of whom were formerly kept inappropriately as pets, at the Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Texas. More information is available at bornfreeusa.org.

The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28, including more than 130,000 members and constituents in Oregon. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org.

Celebrating 140 years of service to animals in this community, the Oregon Humane Society is dedicated to helping animals and people. Last year, over 9,000 animals were adopted through the OHS, more than 900 reports of animal abuse and neglect are investigated, almost 20,000 children were taught humane education, and hundreds of nursing home residents are visited by animal assisted therapy volunteers and their animals. (Style note: OHS is not affiliated with any other humane society in Oregon or the US and should be referred to as the Oregon Humane Society or OHS, not "the Humane Society." Visit oregonhumane.org for more information.)

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