Banning exotic & dangerous wildlife for the animals’ sake
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2002:
WACO, Texas–As the living conditions of large carnivores
and exotic wildlife in private hands go, the mascot bears at Baylor
University in Waco, Texas, are better off than most. The
six-month-old baby bear has a toy: an orange cone. Some say it
resembles a Baylor cheerleader’s megaphone. Others call it a dunce
cap. The 18-month-old senior bear has a multi-level enclosure. Both
bears have pools. Few roadside zoos or backyard menageries offer
comparable amenities–but few are as visible to as many well-educated
people, who might recognize conditions falling far short of optimal
for the animals.
Baylor recently did something about that, after the bears’
stereotypical pacing, filthy water, and lack of any way to get off
the bare concrete drew protest: someone put up a plywood fence to
inhibit casual viewing.
Cut off from any way to see either the outside world or her
quasi-companion in the next cage, the baby bear cried for hours,
reported Steve Hindi and Colleen Gardner of SHARK. Despite the
plywood, Hindi and Gardner videotaped her, using a camera mounted on
an adjustable pole.
Gardner flew from Salt Lake City to Chicago and drove south
to Waco with Hindi after viewing earlier footage of the bears taken
by her son Jeremy Beckham during a summer visit to Baylor to
participate in a student debating tournament.
“Our mascot program meets all standards of the USDA for a
Class C zoo,” responded Baylor University associate vice president
for external relations Larry D. Brumley. “Having said that, the
University is always looking for ways to improve the bears’
environment. In 1976, a major renovation of the facility was
completed. Plans were developed two years ago to expand the facility
and add natural habitat features such as grass and trees. The Baylor
Chamber of Commerce, which manages our bear program, is in the
process of identifying funding for the expansion.”
That does not impress Rob Laidlaw of the Canadian
organization ZooCheck, critiquing zoos since 1979.
For starters, 1976 is ancient history in terms of ideas
about how zoos should be built. The Walt Disney Corporation opened
the Discovery Island Zoo in Orlando, Florida, for example in 1974,
as a then state-of-the-art facility-and closed it as hopelessly
obsolete in 1998, when it opened the nearby Wild Animal Kingdom.
Few bear exhibits at zoos accredited by the American Zoo
Association have not been built or completely rebuilt since 1976,
typically with very different design concepts. The AZA membership
also long since identified the major source of funding for expansions
and renovations necessary to maintaining the physical and
psychological health of zoo animals: they borrow it, at competitive
mortgage rates, and pay off the loans by pleasing visitors and
“The larger bear is displayed in an antiquated grotto-style
enclosure that, for the most part, allows viewers to look down on
the animal,” explained Laidlaw to Hindi and Gardner, after viewing
their videotape. “This kind of enclosure is a throwback to the old
19th century menagerie-style zoos, where visitor viewing took
precedence over responding to the needs of the animals. Grotto style
exhibits are no longer considered acceptable for any bear species,”
Laidlaw continued. “Most animals become stressed when viewed this
At Baylor, Laidlaw wrote, the older bear “has only two
choices: to be looked at from above, or to remain in or around the
upper pool,” where the bear paces for much of each day, “so as to
be on the same level as the viewers. The ground surface in the
exhibit is also extremely problematic,” Laidlaw added. “American
black bears are forest-dwellers, who should be housed on soft
substrates in large, naturalistic paddocks, incorporating live trees,
understory vegetation, high grass, hillocks,” and places to climb.
“Over the long term,” Laidlaw said, “the concrete substrate
may lead to chronic sores, and/or more serious pathologies of the
feet and legs.”
Bears who incessantly pace on a hard surface may develop
chronic stress injuries similar to those suffered by marathon runners
who overtrain–except that pacing bears actually tend to spend more
hours pounding the pavement than marathoners, and often weigh four
times as much, so that the cumulative pounding their knees absorb is
even greater, without special shoes to reduce the shock.
Laidlaw went on to note that the Baylor bears cannot dig,
cannot construct day beds for themselves as they would in the forest,
cannot escape the sound of running water, are exposed to artificial
lighting all night, and receive little by way of environmental
In consequence, Laidlaw confirmed, the stereotypical pacing
and head-weaving that Hindi and Gardner documented was only to be
“The videotapes clearly show distressed bears in horrendously
substandard conditions,” Laidlaw concluded.
Retorted Brumley, “Anybody can find an ‘expert’ to support
A similar controversy is underway in Massillon, Ohio, where
the high school football team booster club has kept a tiger as mascot
at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium during each of the past 22 football
seasons. PETA asked the club to abandon the tradition on August 19,
coinciding with the acquisition of the 13-week-old 2002 mascot tiger
cub from Stump Hill Farm, a USDA-licensed exhibition facility.
Turning to the law
The Baylor bears and Massillon tiger cub are only three among
thousands of exotic and dangerous animals in private hands whom
activists would like to place in sanctuaries– except that there is
not a fraction enough sanctuary space to take them, and not nearly
enough money to ensure their care.
In the past five years, Houston SPCA chief cruelty inspector
Jim Boller alone has taken in 59 exotic cats, half a dozen nonhuman
primates, and three bears, plus “countless” wolves and wolf
hybrids, he recently told Rachel Graves of the Houston Chronicle.
The average of nearly 12 exotic cats per year handled by the
Houston SPCA is about four times the current “normal” exotic cat
intake of a big city humane society. A generation ago, cruelty
inspectors and humane officers might have handled such animals
perhaps once in a decade. Instead of keeping statistics, agencies
kept press clippings. Today most exotic cat seizures do not get
newspaper space, unless there is some further compelling angle.
Fed up with the constant demands on their resources created
by exotic and dangerous animal breeders and sellers, roadside zoos
going out of business, and fly-by-night animal exhibitors, humane
organizations including The Association of Sanctuaries (TAOS) and the
rival American Sanctuary Association (ASA) have become increasingly
successful over the past two years in obtaining legislation to
prohibit exotic and dangerous pet ownership, close substandard
animal exhibits, and ban circus animal acts. Apart from the cruelty
often involved in training animals to perform in circuses, acts
involving dangerous and exotic animals are commonly blamed for
inspiring the public to consider such animals as pets.
Of the 39 known local and state laws in the U.S. which ban
exotic and dangerous animal possession or performances, at least 12
were adopted in either 2001 or 2002.
At least eight other jurisdictions outside the state of Texas
have had such legislation under discussion during 2002–along with
as many as 200 of the 254 counties in Texas, which were empowered to
ban dangerous and exotic animal possession by the 2001 Wild and
Dangerous Animals Act.
Among the non-Texas communities taking action:
* Western Connecticut State University, in Danbury, banned
animal acts from campus grounds in February 2001.
* The planning and zoning commission in Hillsborough County,
Florida, in June 2001 refused to allow Jungleland owner Eugene
Calabrese to provide a winter home to the L.E. Barnes circus family.
* Ferndale, Michigan, in July 2001 banned keeping
reptiles above four feet long, banned keeping more than three
snakes, and required all reptile owners to register them.
* Missouri in August 2001 required exotic animal owners to
register their animals with local law enforcement.
* Washington County, Arkansas, in August 2001 required
owners of exotic animals to post warnings of the animals’ presence
and asked the owners to register their animals. Registration becomes
mandatory if the animals are subject of complaints to the county
animal control department.
* Orange County, North Carolina, in August 2001 banned
traveling elephant acts.
* South Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania, in October 2001
banned possession of “any animal which is wild, fierce, dangerous,
noxious or naturally inclined to do harm,” including alligators,
bobcats, potbellied pigs, raccoons, venomous and constricting
snakes, ferrets, and wolf hybrids. The ordinance was amended in
January 2002 to allow potbellied pigs and ferrets under certain
* Southwest Ranches, Florida, in January 2002 prohibited
public display of dangerous and exotic wildlife other than animals
kept by a nonprofit organization, which uses the receipts from
exhibition toward the animals’ care. The Southwest Ranches ban was
requested by Destiny Big Cat Sanctuary founder Tori Canzonetta,
whose facility is reportedly not normally open to the public.
* Racine, Wisconsin, in January 2002 banned private
possession of any wild, vicious, or hybrid animal.
* Encinitas, California, in April 2002 banned all
exhibitions, circuses, rides or trade shows featuring nondomestic
animals, such as elephants, giraffes, camels, ostriches, and
emus. An exemption was permitted for llamas.
* Greenburgh, New York, in May 2002 banned wild and exotic
animal acts plus rodeos from city property.
* Cleveland, Ohio, in June 2002 banned big cats,
dangerous reptiles, and other pets deemed dangerous.
* Austintown, Ohio, in August 2002 banned private
possession of endangered species, non-native wildlife, and
predators not indigenous to Ohio.
* Portage, Indiana, in August 2002 tried to halt a
traveling tiger exhibit but discovered that it lacked the necessary
Possible federal action
Local ordinances pertaining to exotic and dangerous animals
tend to be highly idiosyncratic, responding to the pressures and
concerns of each community. Some target exhibition but overlook
petkeepers; some target petkeepers but overlook exhibition. All,
so far, might be most important as indicators to state and federal
legislators of constituent interest in addressing exotic and
dangerous animal-keeping, preferably in a more consistent and
Movement toward stronger federal legislation addressing
exotic and dangerous animals may have begun on July 25, when
Representative George Miller (D-California) introduced a bill called
the Captive Wildlife Safety Act. The bill “would ban interstate
shipments of lions, tigers, and bears for the pet trade,”
according to a press release from the Humane Society of the U.S.
HSUS requested the Miller bill, in concert with the
American Zoo Association and the International Fund for Animal
Welfare. The Miller bill has received notice from major news media,
but has little realistic chance of advancing through the present
However, “It appears that bird breeders, dealers,
transporters, exhibitors, and carriers will be regulated under the
Animal Welfare Act,” American Federation of Aviculture president
Benny J. Gallaway advised members on September 3.
“This turn of events was totally unexpected,” Gallaway
continued, “as the so-called Helms Amendment,” passed as part of
the 2002 Farm Bill to exclude rats, mice, and birds used in
biomedical research from protection by the Animal Welfare Act, was
believed to have completely exclud ed birds from any protection.
“Last week,” Gallaway explained, “the USDA contacted
the AFA to express concerns that, in reviewing the recently received
text of the final legislation, changes in punctuation and phrasing of
the Helms Amendment as incorporated into the final version of the Act
were such that USDA would be required to include birds (and other
specified animals not exempted for laboratory research) under the
regulations. This interpretation of the language contained in the
final legislation was subsequently confirmed by USDA legal and
The USDA move to regulate birds is a step toward stronger
federal regulation of exotic and dangerous wildlife. Most birds
commonly kept in private captivity are not native, and though birds
are not commonly thought of as dangerous, many species can be quite
dangerous if improperly handled.
Among the potentially dangerous birds often found in private
collections are falcons, hawks, owls, gamecocks, and large
parrots, like Bird, a cockatoo memorialized on page 22 of this
edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE who defended murder victim Kevin Butler,
48, of Dallas, at cost of his own life.
Several state wildlife agencies seeking to eradicate feral
mute swans have also called them dangerous, although authenticated
injuries inflicted by mute swans are few.
Emus, on the other hand, can severely injure humans, and
ostriches, relative to their numbers in captivity, may be the
deadliest species commonly kept as livestock.
Within a recent four-year span, Ouma Hendriks, 63, of
Joostenbergvlakte, South Africa, was kicked to death in December
1997 by an ostrich who had already incapacitated her husband Abraham,
65, after attacking them as they walked near a neighbor’s ostrich
farm; hiker Jasper Smith was injured in a 40-minute attack during
September 1998 on a trail that crossed an ostrich farm near Saldanha
Bay, South Africa; Fred Parker, 81, was stomped to death in June
1999 while feeding his daughter Linda Carter’s pet ostrich named King
Tut, at Winlock, Washington; a 90-year-old man was killed and his
86-year-old wife was critically injured at their son’s ostrich farm
in Union Parish, Louisiana, during February 2000 (none were named
by police); and Norwegian ostrich breeder Oeystein Froeysnes, 38,
suffered a crushed rib cage and punctured lungs in April 2000 after
coming between a male ostrich and two females.
Reported deadly and nearly-deadly ostrich attacks dropped
abruptly with the drop in the captive ostrich population which
followed the end of an ostrich speculation boom that circled the
world during the 1990s.
Meanwhile, among species usually raised for meat and
byproducts, only breeding bulls killed more people in the U.S.,
South Africa, and Norway during 1997-2000.
The movement toward restricting private ownership of exotic
and dangerous animals has growing momentum in many other nations:
* Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada, in June 2001 banned
animal circuses, following the recent examples of at least 20
British Columbia cities, including Vancouver.
* A two-year campaign in Brazil begun by Alianca
International do Animal founder Ila Franco after a circus elephant
killed a trainer in 1999, boosted a year later by the fatal mauling
of a six-year-old boy by a circus lion, in November 2001 brought a
ban on the use of dangerous animals in circuses in Rio de Janeiro
state. Rio de Janeiro in May 2002 extended the legislation to ban
animal circuses outright. Similar legislation was meanwhile approved
in the cities of Sao Leopoldo, Olinda, and Puerto Alegre, and the
state of Pernambuco.
* Bogota, Columbia, in May 2002 banned circus animal acts.
* Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia, in February
2002 banned animal circuses.
* The Cyprus veterinary department in April 2002 tightened
restrictions on importing exotic pets, after approving the import of
more than 3,000 exotic birds in 2001.
* Costa Rica banned animal circuses in July 2002.
The Royal SPCA of Great Britain has since January 2002 urged
the British government to strengthen the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals
Act, has requested a total ban of animal circuses, and has asked
the European Union to more tightly restrict imports of exotic
species. During the 1990s, the RSPCA says, 28,000 live crocodiles
and 80,000 monitor lizards were imported into European Union nations,
among more than a million total reptiles. RSPCA data shows that 23%
of the reptiles did not survive the trip, while 72% of the turtles,
56% of the snakes, and 40% of the lizards were improperly housed by
In Norway, not a nation known for animal rights activism,
agriculture minister Lars Sponheim recently proposed banning elephant
transport as a public safety measure. Circus Merano owner Knut Dahl
responded in late August by threatening to go out of business, after
28 years on the road.
“This is a cultural institution that is being shut down,”
said Circus Merano spokesperson Turid Beth Hansen.
“That’s dumb and meaningless,” responded Sponheim to the
newspaper Aftenposten, rejecting the argument that cultural
tradition should trump other considerations.
Both Norway and Japan have claimed a cultural need to
continue whaling, but culture has not been raised as an argument
relevant to keeping exotic and dangerous animals in Japan, perhaps
because keeping any kind of animals other than livestock in captivity
has a relatively short history there. Japan has little
animal-related entertainment, compared to most other affluent
nations, and by the standards of most of the rest of the world,
Japan has a relatively small dangerous and exotic wild pet problem,
at least if measured in terms of public incidents involving escapes
and injuries, despite being among the major importers of animals
from Australia and Southeast Asia.
Yet the relative scarcity of dangerous and exotic ani
mal-related incidents in Japan may be only because most of the
imported animals do not live long–other than some raccoons,
monkeys, rabbits, and squirrels who have established feral
populations after escaping or being released.
The Nogeyama Zoo in Yokohama reports receiving an average of
35 rare exotics per year from police, well below the intake at
similar facilities in the U.S., but enough to encourage the Japanese
environment ministry to consider stronger regulation of the exotic
Mexico, among the nations reputedly most involved in exotic
and dangerous wildlife trafficking, with little effective
regulation, has long been under pressure from animal advocacy groups
seeking a crackdown, to little evident effect.
Since the evening of July 28, however, expressions of
concern have come from tourism promoters, as well. That evening
schoolgirl basketball star Brittany Regeliski, 13, went to dinner
with her 15-year-old sister, Ashley Regeliski, and her mother,
Penny Pilcher, at the Parrilla La Mision restaurant in Cozumel.
Restaurant owner Estella Miranda had a pair of two-year-old declawed
African lions on exhibit in a cage which reportedly was without signs
warning visitors to stay away. As many as five teenagers including
Brittany Regeliski approached to pet the lions. While touching one
lion, Brittany Regeliski momentarily turned her head to speak to one
of the other teens. The lion seized her left arm in his teeth and
pulled. Emergency surgery saved the arm, but she may never again be
able to play competitive basketball.
For decades, Mexican promoters have used wildlife to attract
tourists. Maulings, however, tend to discourage tourism,
especially when the victims are children.
Money in parts
Liability issues are driving most of the recent action to ban
or restrict keeping exotic and dangerous wildlife, both in the U.S.
and abroad. Relatively little of the public policy debate pays
attention to what may become of the animals after bans are in effect.
Already overwhelmed by the incoming animal volume, and
knowing that each ban on possession or exhibition of exotic or
dangerous wildlife will mean more arrivals if the ban is enforced,
the TAOS and ASA sanctuary alliances nonetheless strongly favor
restrictive legislation because it tends to discourage breeding and
trafficking. In the long run, most TAOS and ASA members believe,
restrictive exotic and dangerous animal regulation hastens the time
when extensive sanctuary networks will no longer be necessary to take
care of animals who never should have been bred or removed from the
Meanwhile, because sanctuary space and funding is quite
limited, there is increasing risk that animals who are supposedly
being rescued are instead being sold by “scamtuaries,” as TAOS and
ASA members call dubious operations, and are ending up in canned
hunts and the body parts traffic.
Bears, big cats, elephants, rhinos, and even wild horses
are literally worth more these days dead than alive.
Hindi, Gardner, and many TAOS and ASA members familiar with
the Baylor bear program suspect this includes the Baylor bears,
after they become too big, old, debilitated, and/or cranky to be
paraded safely at football games.
Chance, a Baylor mascot preceding the present pair, was
delivered to Bear Country USA, described by Animal Underworld
author Alan Green as, “a South Dakota drive-through park just down
the road from Mount Rushmore, with a chronic history of flunking
Animal Welfare Act inspections. Home to about 360 bears, this park
has a radical approach to keeping its population stable,” Green
charged in 1999. “Some of the bears are quietly trucked off to South
Dakota slaughterhouses, where they are butchered and packaged for
the exotic meat trade. During one recent year, 20 bears in South
Dakota were slaughtered under state inspection. The state
veterinarian will not say how many of those animals came from Bear
Country USA, nor will the park owners.”
“We have assurances from Bear Country USA that Chance is not
going to be slaughtered,” claims Brumley.
Considering the number of bears at the facility, however,
the difficulty of identifying any one bear among them, and the
reluctance of the owners and the South Dakota state veterinarian to
provide details about the sale of bears to slaughter, such assurances
are practically impossible for animal defenders to monitor.
Bear Country USA sells animals to slaughter within the law.
Many other exotic and dangerous animal-keepers cut corners. This
recently landed at least 17 people in trouble with the USDA and U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service.
Ross Wilmoth, 77, owner of the Wild Wilderness Drive Thru
Safari in Gentry, Arkansas, settled USDA charges in June 2002 by
agreeing to pay $5,000 to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, spend $2,500 on improved training in animal care and
nutrition for the safari workers, and spend $2,500 on site
improvements. His son Freddy Wilmoth was on May 20 given three years
on probation and ordered to pay $10,000 restitution in connection
with selling four tigers to Todd and Vicki Lantz of Lazy L Exotics,
in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
Todd Lantz shot the tigers at his father-in-law’s 5-H Ranch,
and sold their hides, meat, and other body parts for $4,000,
prosecutors said. On August 27, Todd Lantz drew five months in
prison. For allegedly falsifying related documents, Vicki Lantz
drew six months under home arrest, plus five years on probation.
Timothy Dale Rivers, of Animals in Motion in Citra,
Florida, better known for promoting the nationally notorious Tim
Rivers Diving Mules traveling show, in mid-August pleaded guilty to
illegally selling two black leopards to an Illinois buyer through
Todd Lantz. Rivers also admitted selling a Bengal tiger to a
co-defendant from Chicago.
Steven Galecki, 32, who formerly operated the Funky Monkey
Animal Park in Crete, Illinois, on August 29 pleaded guilty to
conspiracy for his alleged involvement in selling at least 19 tigers,
seven leopards, two African lions, a snow leopard, a puma, and
an Asian swamp deer to their deaths. Galecki admitted selling six of
the animals to Robert Martinez, M.D., of Palos Heights, Illinois,
who allegedly then borrowed a gun from William Kapp of Tinley Park,
Illinois, to shoot the animals in cages on Galecki’s property. A
friend, David Woldman of Lombard, was also involved in killing at
least two of the animals, the prosecution charged.
Martinez allegedly paid Galecki $7,000; Galecki paid Kapp $2,000.
The carcasses were allegedly delivered to meat market owner
Richard Czimer. Czimer and Woldman have also been indicted in the
Previously convicted were Woody Thompson, owner of the
Willow Lake Sportsmen’s club in Three Rivers, Michigan, who was
fined $30,000 and given six months of home detention, and Timothy
Laurie, of Elgin, Illinois, who is still awaiting sentencing.
Numerous related cases are also pending.
The U.S. cases echoed the suspicions of Dr. Harish Maikhusi,
of the organization Prithvi Kalyan Samiti Godeshwar in Garhwal,
Himalaya, India, who recently wrote to ANIMAL PEOPLE after the
exposure of a zoo-based wildlife parts trafficking ring in India,
“I think tiger parks are maintained only to provide tiger skins to
Maikhusi enclosed a photograph of leopard pelts seized from
smugglers in his region.
ANIMAL PEOPLE compared the reported death rates among big
cats in Indian zoos and AZA-accredited U.S. zoos for three months
after receiving the message from Maikhusi, and found that they were
approximately the same, with no evident reason to suspect wrongdoing
on a significant scale at the public zoos of either nation. Many of
the recent deaths of tigers, lions, and leopards in India,
moreover, involved animals who were recently confiscated from
illegal traveling shows, and arrived in poor condition, with
untreated parasitic infections and tumors.
In Lahore, Pakistan, however, Punjab state director
general of wildlife and parks M.D. Chaudhary and Zoological Garden
Bahawalpur curator Muhammad Lateef Chaudary boasted to the Frontier
Post of Peshawar in mid-August of having just sold six lion cubs,
raising their total of cubs sold to more than 100.
“We have a stock of two tigresses and 15 lions and
lionesses,” Chaudhary reportedly said.
If there is a major difference between the practices of the
Zoological Garden Bahawalpur and those of many U.S. roadside zoos,
it may be that the U.S. facilities rarely announce their ethically
dubious deals through mass media.