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Animal Welfare Groups Call for Stronger Laws to Regulate Exotic Pets in Virginia

Monkey Attack in Virginia Spotlights Need for Legislation

RICHMOND, Va. — With the recent news of another person attacked by a primate kept as a pet, The Humane Society of the United States and the Richmond SPCA are calling on Virginia’s lawmakers to address the problems associated with private possession of exotic animals.

The Tidewater News and WTKR-TV have reported that an unidentified man was attacked while he slept by one of the two Java macaque monkeys that he and his partner kept as pets in Surry County, Va. The wounds to his face and wrist required the man to be hospitalized, and the 30-pound seven-year old “Sammy” and the other macaque were subsequently taken to an exotic animal facility in nearby Southampton County.

Currently there are no laws in the Commonwealth that prohibit the ownership of dangerous wild animals. “Keeping wild animals as pets threatens public health and safety, as well as animal welfare,” said Laura Donahue, The HSUS’ Virginia state director. “Sadly, this incident is not an isolated event but one of many that have occurred right here in Virginia and highlights the need for stronger legislation regulating the private ownership of wild and exotic animals.”

“It is neither wise nor safe for private individuals or entities without expertise in the care of exotic species to keep a chimpanzee or a tiger as a pet, and yet it is perfectly legal to do so in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Robin Robertson Starr, chief executive officer of the Richmond SPCA. “Not only do these wild animals suffer when they do not receive proper care, but their natural instincts make them, through no fault of their own, fully capable of killing or seriously injuring someone.”

The following is just a sampling of the many incidents in Virginia over the last decade that demonstrate the hazards of allowing unqualified individuals and facilities to harbor dangerous wild animals:

  • July 2010/Mechanicsville: Six chimpanzees escaped an enclosure at Windy Oaks Animal Farm when a gate was left open and one was not recaptured until the next day. According to Windy Oaks’ veterinarian, this escape was the third such incident at the facility.
  • March 2010/Chesapeake: A man was attacked twice in two weeks by his pet capuchin monkey, who bit his left hand, severing a finger.
  • November 2008/Luray: A 16-year-old employee at the Luray Zoo was attacked by an adult tiger, causing severe injuries to her left hand and arm.
  • October 2008/Virginia Beach: A 25-year-old woman was found strangled to death by her pet python.
  • February 2006/Richmond: A 5-year-old boy was treated at a hospital after being bitten by a black bear at Maymont Park. The facility’s bears were killed to be tested for rabies.
  • December 2003/Natural Bridge: Two Asiatic bears were shot and killed after they escaped from their enclosure at the Natural Bridge Zoo.

Wild animals can spread disease, even through casual contact, and the average pet owner cannot provide the care they need in captivity. Even captive-bred and smaller wild animals have wild instincts, and as this case shows, smaller animals can inflict serious injuries when they attack.

The HSUS and the Richmond SPCA urge the Virginia General Assembly to enact strong legislation restricting the possession of dangerous wild animals to only zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and legitimate sanctuaries when it convenes again in January 2012, before the next reported attack is one that has a fatal outcome for the owner, the animal or both.


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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. 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.

The Richmond SPCA, founded in 1891, is a no-kill humane organization dedicated to the guiding principle that every life is precious. As a national leader in humane care and education, the Richmond SPCA is aggressively tackling the problem of pet overpopulation through programs of adoption, rehabilitation, spay/neuter, pet-retention, trap-neuter-return, and humane education. For more information, visit www.richmondspca.org.