Bills aim to restrict ownership of exotic animals

Missouri is a haven for large cat owners without permits, a lawmaker says.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 1:33 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Boone County resident J.B. Anderson has a thing for cats — but not just any kind of cat. Over the past 30 years, he has not been interested primarily in the kind of felines typically found sleeping on a windowsill. Instead, jaguars and a rare snow leopard are more to Anderson’s liking.

Although owning these kinds of exotic animals is uncommon in Missouri, enough concern about the potential danger they pose to the public has prompted a pair of bills to be filed in the Missouri legislature restricting the ownership, sale and transport of tigers, bears and lions that are not native to the state.

The Large Carnivore Act, a measure that its sponsor, Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, says is necessary to prevent tragedies like the one that struck Kansan Haley Hilderbrand, faced little resistance Tuesday in a Senate Agriculture, Conservation, Parks and Natural Resources Committee meeting.

In August 2005, Hilderbrand was set to begin her senior year of high school in Altamont, Kan., when a Siberian tiger that she was posing with for her senior pictures attacked and killed her.

“This is a very sad situation that I think we do not want to wait until we have a (Haley) Hilderbrand in the state of Missouri,” Justus told the committee. She added that because of a lack of regulation, Missouri is “becoming a haven for people who want to own large cats without a permit.”

In addition to requiring owners of non-native felines and bears to obtain a permit from the state, the bill would also mandate that they buy liability insurance worth at least $250,000 and have an identifying microchip implanted under the animals’ skin. Current law requires a permit to own certain animals that are native to Missouri, but does not require it for other exotic species such as African lions and Siberian tigers.

According to the Resource Science Center, a division of the Missouri Department of Conservation, 50 people in the state have a permit to own a mountain lion, black bear or wolf — all native to Missouri.

Although Anderson told the Senate committee that he supports the legislation, he voiced concerns that the insurance premiums would cost too much and that since there is no funding to enforce the measure, the permit fees would be too high. “It would have to be an unbelievable amount,” he said.

Another potential problem with the bill is that it does not bar public contact with large carnivores and would therefore not prevent incidents such as the one that killed Hilderbrand.

But Justus said she plans to revise the measure to include “no contact” language to plug that gap.

A bill similar to Justus’ measure was introduced Monday in the Missouri

House. Both proposals would exempt zoos, circuses and the MU College of Veterinary Medicine from the permit requirements.

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