Bill requires permits for tigers, other large carnivores

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Bill requires permits for tigers, other large carnivores

By Roger McKinney

Published April 26, 2009 09:09 pm

The Missouri House last week approved a bill that would require people who own lions, tigers and other large, exotic carnivores to have permits.

State Rep. Mike Sutherland, R-Warrenton, sponsored the bill. It also would require owners to post signs warning that “a potentially dangerous large carnivore is kept on this property.”

The animal owners also would have to provide adequate living conditions, food, water and drainage, and remove the animal’s waste at least once a week. Sutherland couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

On May 19, 2008, a deputy with the Newton County Sheriff’s Department shot and killed a black leopard that had been pawing at the storm door of a rural Neosho house. The cat had been declawed and was thought to be a domesticated animal that had escaped.

When authorities raided an alleged puppy mill on Feb. 19 in rural Seneca, they seized 208 dogs and a tiger.

The Missouri Department of Conservation regulates native, or formerly native and now captive, large animals, including wolves, bears, bobcats and mountain lions.

James Dixon, a wildlife damage biologist with the Conservation Department, said that when he investigated the leopard incident last year, he was surprised when he determined that there were almost no state regulations about large, exotic animals.

“There’s pretty much nothing in place,” Dixon said. “Everybody was caught off guard by that black leopard that got killed.”

Dixon said owners of non-native animals are required to register them with the local sheriff’s department, but that often isn’t enforced.

He said the Conservation Department requires owners of captive, native animals to have microchips implanted in the animals, and the owners must submit a DNA sample of each animal.

Dixon said any regulation the Legislature approves would be an improvement.

“We’re trying to step up to the plate a little bit and make sure these owners are responsible,” he said.

Beth Preiss, director of the exotic-pets campaign for the Humane Society of the United States, said the legislation, if approved, would move Missouri from near the bottom of the states to the middle in terms of regulating the captive, wild animals.

“It’s a modest bill,” Preiss said. “We think it’s a good step forward.”

Preiss said neighboring Kansas has a model law for the nation. The law, which essentially bans private ownership of wild animals, was approved by the Legislature in 2006.

It was prompted by the Aug. 18, 2005, death of 17-year-old Haley Hilderbrand, of Altamont. Hilderbrand was attacked by a tiger during a photo shoot at an animal sanctuary.

Subsequent federal legislation that would have banned any direct contact between the wild cats and the public failed to receive approval in Congress. It was introduced by then-U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kan., and also was prompted by Hilderbrand’s death.

“It’s time for Missouri to take action,” Preiss said. She said people don’t want tigers, lions or other big cats as neighbors.

“It’s better to act before someone is injured or killed,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tiger owners

An estimated 5,000 tigers are privately owned in the United States. That’s more than those living in the wild in India.

Source: Humane Society of the United States

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