The West Virginia legislature has passed House Bill 4393, to prohibit the private possession of dangerous wild animals. The bill, which was introduced by Del. Randy Swartzmiller, D-1, passed the House by a 72 to 23 vote and the Senate by a 22 to 11 vote. The bill now heads to the Governor.
The Humane Society of the United States, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the International Fund for Animal Welfare commends the West Virginia legislature for passing this important legislation. HB 4393 creates a Dangerous Wild Animal Board whose members will determine which animals to include under the law. The bill recommends the following animals be prohibited from future ownership: big cats, bears, primates, venomous and constrictor snakes, and alligators.
Summer Wyatt, West Virginia state director for The HSUS said: “The days when any Tom, Dick, or Harry can pick up a few tigers, lions, and bears and call themselves a zoo are coming to an end in West Virginia. We applaud the legislature for making animal welfare and public safety a top priority and urge Gov. Tomblin to act swiftly and sign HB 4393 into law.”
Kris Vehrs, Executive Director of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said: “HB 4393 recognizes the high standards met by zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, such as Oglebay's Good Zoo in Wheeling. This law assures that qualified professionals are providing safe housing and humane care, especially for dangerous wild animals.”
Tracy Coppola, campaigns officer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said: "Today marks a tremendous step forward for animal welfare and public safety in West Virginia. Wild animals kept as backyard pets or in roadside zoo exhibits cannot escape a life of misery. Without a change in the law, first responders trained to protect human safety will continue to risk their lives confronting these dangerous wild animals after escapes or attacks."
Dangerous wild animals kept by unqualified people have escaped in West Virginia, posing a risk to citizens and creating a burden for law enforcement. For example, a pet chimpanzee escaped in Sprague and bit two people; a rhesus macaque escaped in Martinsburg and bit two children and a teenager, Ravenswood police issued a community alert after a resident’s 9-foot reticulated python escaped near a daycare center and elementary school, and an African lion was spotted running loose in Greenbrier County.
West Virginia is one of only six states with little to no laws on the keeping of dangerous wild animals. Every state bordering West Virginia has stronger policies in this area. The time has come for West Virginia to follow the trend of states that have taken decisive action on this issue.
Since 1990, there have been nearly 1,300 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats, bears, primates and large constrictor snakes nationwide, resulting in 41 human deaths (including eight children) and nearly 700 injuries.
Wild animals retain their basic instincts, even if they are born in captivity and hand-raised. When the animals grow too large and difficult to handle, they are typically confined to small cages, passed from owner to owner or simply turned loose—endangering the community and native wildlife.
Dangerous wild animals can cause death, inflict serious injury and spread deadly diseases.