Florida Foxes In Charge of Hen House
Or, Why Florida Leads the Nation in Killings, Maulings and Escapes
“It’s just absurd that we are allowing the import of so many exotic animals into Florida!” says, State Representative Ellyn Bogdanoff of Ft. Lauderdale.
That is what we thought she would say when she heard the statistics. The Associated Press recently reported that in 2005 there were more than 210 million animals imported to the United States. Only wild birds, primates and some cud-chewing wild animals are required to be quarantined upon arriving in the United States. The rest slip through with no disease screening, except for occasional Agriculture Department checks for ticks. Given the number of inspectors and the number of animals being imported, that would mean that each inspector is responsible for clearing 15,000 animals per day, every day of the year.
No wonder we are seeing so many zoonotic diseases erupting. More than 50 million people suffered from these diseases that jump from animals to humans in the past 5 years.
“Taking an animal from the wild and putting it in your child’s bedroom is just not a good idea,” said Paul Arguin, an expert from the Center for Disease Control. “We just don’t know a lot about the diseases these animals carry.”
Even if you are compassionate enough to avoid the exotic animal trade, you could become a victim of your neighbor’s obsession with owning a wild animal. Exotic wildlife also can act as sources for disease in which mosquitoes and ticks act as intermediate carriers, passing an infection from animal to human by successive bites. Some of the most lethal viruses, the hemorrhagic fevers, are spread this way, resulting in high death rates and disabilities for those who survive.
This, and the inherent cruelty in making a pet of an animal that was designed to live free, is why Heather Veleanu of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida and Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue asked to meet with Representative Bogdanoff this month. Florida leads the nation in the number of exotic cat incidents that include deaths, maulings and escapes and the people of Florida demand some action.
The Sun-Sentinel ran a poll asking how people felt about banning the sale of exotic pets. 96% of those polled favored ban. 11,414 people have signed our online petition asking for a ban on the trade in exotic cats and more than 3,100 of you wrote letters to Florida’s Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asking for bans on the breeding, trade and exploitation of wild cats. With such overwhelming public support for bans, you might wonder why nothing is being done.
15 other states already ban the private possession and use of big cats and 7 more have launched such legislation already in 2007. Florida is the biggest provider of exotics to the rest of the country and is a haven to more dealers than any other state because tax payers have very little say in the matter. Unlike other states, the FWC has constitutional authority to make its own rules in Florida and if you don’t like it, there isn’t much you can do about it.
We met with Rep. Bogdanoff for advice on what can be done. The legislature controls the funding for the FWC and we can try to increase the permit fees and fines and require that the money collected for allowing the possession of exotic animals be used to regulate the industry, but that that doesn’t do anything to protect the public when the FWC deems a 200 lb. cougar to be an appropriate pet or when they issue permits to tiger-tamer-wanabees who live right next door to schools and day care centers.
This only gives us three options:
- Ask Governor Crist to appoint Commissioners who represent the majority in matters that deal with wildlife. The current board consists solely of hunters and yet 77% of the people polled said they felt hunting should be outlawed.
- Amend Florida’s constitution to remove the constitutional authority of the FWC and return them to the agency position that most, if not all, other states utilize.
- Convince the FWC to ban the importation, breeding, sale, trade and exploitation of wildlife. The only exceptions should be accredited AZA zoos who are participating with the Species Survival Plans and accredited rescue facilities that do not breed, trade or use their animals for exploitative commercial enterprises.
The third would seem the easiest, but in the many years that Big Cat Rescue and ARFF have tried to work with the FWC we have been ignored.
The second option requires 620,000 signatures of Floridians asking for such an amendment and such a campaign is expected to run well over one million dollars.