Florida’s Captive Wildlife Technical Assistance Group
On February 7th and 8th the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commissioners
voted on the proposed rules that were created by the Florida Captive
Wildlife Technical Assistance Group. While the proposed rules are better
than the current rules, they are far from adequate. See the meeting and
presentations made by Big Cat Rescue, HSUS and the Florida Animal Control Association HERE
Did you know that your neighbors may be keeping any number of dangerous
captive wildlife right next door to your home or school (venomous snakes,
constrictors, tigers, and large primates), without so much as a “beware
of” sign or hurricane evacuation plan?
At present, this situation is perfectly legal…and there isn’t a thing you or I can do, for this falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC).
Indeed, there have already been incidents of escaped, dangerous wildlife. See the list HERE. We fear there will
be more if leadership does not act soon.
As the current Hillsborough County Animal Services Director and former President of the Florida Animal Control Association (FACA), Bill Armstrong has done significant research into the status of Florida’s dangerous captive wildlife regulations. A list of new regulations will be proposed during the upcoming Florida Wildlife Commission (FWCC) meeting on February 7, 2007 in Destin. However, these new proposed regulations do not go far enough to protect the public’s safety.
To coin a phrase, “the fur is sure to fly!” While it may not be popular with snake and tiger breeders, Bill feels it his duty to present this information. The Florida Animal Control Association (FACA) believes the time has come for
FWCC to take a more aggressive stance, and further, the citizenry deserves a voice in this process.
Attached are the following (many links are missing because the external sites have deleted the pages):
1) The Florida Animal Control Association’s (FACA) position on Florida’s captive wildlife regulations and the issue of public safety HERE
2) The PPT presentation I presented to the FWC Commissioners on September 13, 2006 HERE
3) The PPT on the FWC Website presenting the proposed rule changes HERE
4) The FWC letter written to a concerned neighbor after the August 13, 2003 Black Mamba “accident” that took place in Tampa. HERE
5) Fox News link to story on this issue which aired last week HERE
6) FWC Link provides the agenda, etc. concerning the upcoming FWC February 7/8 2007 meeting: http://myfwc.com/commission/2007/Feb07/index.html
7) Link to Florida Animal Control Association (FACA) Press Release HERE
8) Word Document with photos of people who have been mauled by cougars HERE
9) The Florida Association of Counties position statement on the new rules HERE
Help us stop the breeding of wild animals for lives of confinement at CatLaws.com
What You Can Do
You can tell the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission that you want laws that actually protect the public from these tiger-tamer-wannabees here.
History of the Florida Captive Wildlife Technical Assistance
In July of 2005 the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Director Ken Haddad and Col. Julie Jones put together a committee to review Florida’s current exotic animal regulations for the purpose of updating the work of the committee assembled in 1994.
The proposed purpose of the group is to review the captive wildlife regulations and suggest changes that would improve Florida’s current rules. Unfortunately, as in 1994, the FWCC has decided that the group making the decisions about how wildlife should be kept will be comprised of “stakeholders” to use the state’s term, which essentially puts the fox in charge of the henhouse.
Only 0.0002 of Floridians own exotic animals and yet all but two of the 11 member committee either own wild animals as pets or make their living from the use of captive wild animals. The other 99.9998 of the 18,000,000 Floridians have a vested interest in these regulations because they are exposed to animals being improperly housed, handled or cared for and are having to pay for the privilege of living in a state that is frequently
threatened by hurricanes and the potential of literally thousands of big dangerous cats on the roam in the aftermath. There are more than 1400 tigers in Florida and no counts on the numbers of lions, leopards, cougars and others.
FWCC was given constitutional authority over all aspects of wildlife and exotic animals and as a result Floridians have no legislative power to enact more humane and reasonable laws. As a result there are only three things you can do:
1. Pressure FWCC to ban the private ownership of exotic animals. See Big Cat Bans in other states .
2. Assist your county in passing zoning ordinances that would restrict exotic and dangerous animals to appropriate neighborhoods. See Memorandum of Law Coming Soon .
3. Support a constitutional amendment to overturn FWCC’s power to regulate captive exotic animals if they are unresponsive to the voice of the majority of Floridians.
Meeting notes: August 25, 2005
The following is a list of the selected committee members and their brief biographies.
Julie Alexa Strauss: An attorney for FELD Entertainment which owns Ringling Brothers Circus and the now defunct Siegfried and Roy tiger act.
Daniel Martinelli, owner of Treasure Coast Wildlife Center. In 2004 his “zoo” as he called it of 150 animals was evicted and a 20 ac site donated by the Audubon Society. He ran a well publicized campaign to keep cats indoors, so maybe that is why the Audubon Society is funding his “zoo.” He takes wild animals to schools for a fee “Our Indoor Presentations are designed to make the natural environment accessible to groups that are unable to take advantage of our Field Experiences. These presentations are unique because of the use of live native wildlife. The use of live animals allows the audience a wonderful opportunity to learn about and experience the natural history of south Florida. Indoor presentations are available for groups of all ages, and can be adapted to fit the needs or the curriculum of each individual group.”
Eugene Bessette represents the Gainesville Herpetological Association and is owner/operator of Ophilogical Services in Archer, Florida. Florida has a large reptile trade (Mr. Bessette has a large reptile trade, including venomous snakes). FWCC states: “In years past, proposed legislative bills would have completely outlawed the possession of wildlife or the importation of reptiles and other species. Mr. Bessette has worked with the Commission and other groups to halt unreasonable regulation of wildlife owners through ill-conceived legislation.”
Joe Christman in charge of bison at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. SPMAG Advisor P.O. Box 10000 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830-1000 He specializes in bison and giraffe and that is the only reference to him found.
Dr. Lee Coffman, DVM. resigned as State Veterinarian in 2004. (United Poultry Concerns, Dr. Davis quotes Coffman as saying that killing the chickens from a closed factory farm was “the best thing for the chickens”. While working at Florida’s state veterinarian he approved the current law for feeding garbage to farm animals that required it to be cooked.
Gloria Noble Johnson owner of two pet cougars and a new pet white tiger operating under the name of Cougar Ridge Center near Tallahassee. After being appointed to this group she supported the horrific white
tiger trade by obtaining a baby white tiger. Since a baby white tiger will easily fetch more than $10,000.00 one has to wonder how much she paid for it? She bottle raised baby tigers for Robert Baudy of Savage Kingdom and others who use them in live animal acts. She said she would like to give up her job lobbying and support herself entirely from doing her “educational” programs with her cats. She is an active member of the Long Island Ocelot Club’s (now calling themselves the Feline Conservation Federation which promotes breeding and keeping of captive cats by the private sector) and is adamant that she will not support a ban on the private ownership of exotic animals. Her quote from the first day of sessions sums up the attitude of the majority of the committee when she said in defense of creating regulations that would serve her and other exotic animal owners and violate
the publics’ safety, “We shouldn’t have to cow-tow to the public.” She later informed me that she added at the end, “if they are being unreasonable” but I didn’t hear that.
Dr. Susan Clubb, DVM owner of Rainforest Clinic for Birds and Exotics.
Owner & founder of Hurricane Aviaries, a breeding facility for exotic birds and reptiles who claims “We are breeders of exotic birds. Parrots are our specialty! Hurricane Aviaries is a breeding facility for exotic birds since 1992 to present. We have extensive experience in BREEDING PARROTS FOR PETS — Cockatoos, Macaws, Amazons, African Greys, Hawkheads, Caiques, Eclectus, Conures, Quakers, and other species. Birds are sold Wholesale or for Export ONLY. ” At her clinic she specializes in treating birds and exotics. 3319 E Rd. Loxahatchee, FL 33470 561-795-4878
R. Donovan Smith, owner of Close-Up Creatures, Inc. 2755 INEZ Rd SW NAPLES , FL 34117 His web site appears to offer chained tigers, lions, leopards, cougars etc for your party needs. His neighbors and those who are concerned about animals being used as props for his traveling show have tried to shut him down so it would seem he has a vested interest in making sure they will not be able to use state law to do so. Ngala. ChimpNews.
Dr. Terri Parrot-Nenezian, is also a pet monkey owner and commercially licensed exotic dealer. Dr. Parrott has worked with Wildlife Inspectors and Tallahassee staff for a number of years from her practice in Pembroke Park. She often holds seized or abandoned wildlife, especially primates, for their officers. She also trains inspectors in the use of tranquilizing equipment. (Google reports that she breeds and sells more than 30 monkeys) This year a bill is expected to be passed prohibiting the interstate transport of monkeys as pets because on a national level people understand that this is dangerous for people and inhumane for the animals. In 2003 a bill became law on a Federal level that addressed big cats (including cougars as big cats) as pets, again, because on a national level people understand that there is just no excuse for this practice.
Bill Armstrong, Director of Hillsborough County Animal Services and the President of the Florida Animal Control Association. Every county, except Dade is a member of FACA and has been trying for years to get the FWCC to enact measures that would enable Animal Control to know where dangerous animals are located so that they can be prepared in crisis and to protect their officers from walking into dangerous situations unaware.
Ken Johnson for The Humane Society of the United States. Ken has worked with the Commission and Wildlife Inspectors for over a decade. Mr. Johnson’s work as a humane investigator has taken him to a wide variety of locales world wide, and his work in Florida has repeatedly brought him into liaison with the Commission. Captive wildlife issues and minimum caging specifications are of particular interest to him. In fact, it was at his suggestion that the Commission established the Captive Wildlife Committee in 1994 but at that time he was the only non animal user on the committee.
The committee from 1994:
The Captive Wildlife Committee of 1994
The following is from FWCC’s reports and those in bold are comments by Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue. The make up of the last Captive Wildlife Committee could be the reason for some of the problems the state faces today such as a 50% increase in the number of tigers in our state last year, the escapes of tigers and their shooting and all of the bad press FWC got for that, and hundreds and hundreds of people complaining about the awful conditions that are NOT a violation of current rules.
It is obvious from the highlighted text that the person drafting this already had decided that exotic animals are suitable pets and that the laws shouldn’t require too much of the owners. It would appear to the casual reader that the members were chosen because they would agree with this philosophy of using animals for entertainment, gain or as pets. Having one token person from HSUS didn’t threaten the outcome of any discussion because that person would be so out numbered by those intent on preserving their right to own exotic animals.
The FWC has come a long way since 1994 and in order to stay current with emerging beliefs about animals it would seem imperative not to follow in the foot paths of the past.
1. Mr. Pat Quinn: Mr. Quinn is the owner/operator of The Zoo in Gulf Breeze, Florida . He represents the Florida Association of Zoos and Aquariums on this board. FAZA as a state Association, is also affiliated with the nationally recognized American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (AAZPA). Our Wildlife Inspectors and Tallahassee staff have worked closely with FAZA on a variety of captive wildlife issues.
Florida ‘s wildlife attractions account for a large percentage of the state’s tourist trade. Millions of tourists and Floridians’ visit our wildlife exhibits each year. FAZA represents both large and small attractions in Florida from both the public and private sector. So all zoological attractions in Florida , from giants such as Walt Disney World, Sea World, and Bush Gardens to municipal zoos, such as the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, the Jacksonville Zoo, and the Miami Metro Zoo have a vested interest in the work of this committee. There are only
The Commission licenses over 10,000 persons, firms and corporations to possess wildlife for private and commercial use. There are approximately 300 attractions in Florida that could be defined as full time wildlife exhibitors. All attractions must meet or exceed the minimum pen specifications. From the gas station with one squirrel monkey on display, to Monkey Jungle with gorillas, baboons, and orangutans, the Commission must regulate them all.
Our philosophy regarding wildlife attractions, is that we cannot be a “better business bureau” for them. Although, it would be wonderful if everyone that owns wildlife could afford to place it in a natural looking display that is visually attractive and pleasing, it’s simply not possible. Therefore, there must be minimum standards for caging that are reasonable and effective. These standards must take into consideration all the biological requirements of the animals.
Busch Gardens is also a member of FAZA and was on the list of organizations that FWC is sending an invitation to. The zoos (even the accredited ones) are largely to blame for the number of unwanted exotic animals in private possession. AZA zoos only sell or give animals to brokers so that they can distance themselves from the ultimate destination of the animals which is the private sector. AZA is opposed to the pending federal bills (S. 304 and HR 1688) that would ban the interstate transport of animals into “canned hunts” because the originators of the animals would be held responsible if the animal ended up in a hunting ranch. I attended the AZA Legislative Conference in 2005 and have this knowledge first hand.
2. Dr. Teresa Parrott: Dr. Parrott is not only an experienced exotic animal veterinarian, she is also a personal wildlife pet owner and commercially licensed dealer . Dr. Parrott has worked with Wildlife Inspectors and Tallahassee staff for a number of years from her practice in Pembroke Park . She often holds seized or abandoned wildlife, especially primates, for our officers. She also trains inspectors in the use of tranquilizing equipment. (Google reports that she breeds and sells more than 30 monkeys) This year a bill is expected to be passed prohibiting the interstate transport of monkeys as pets because on a national level people understand that this is dangerous for people and inhumane for the animals. In 2003 a bill became law on a Federal level that addressed big cats (including cougars as big cats) as pets, again, because on a national level people understand that there is just no excuse for this practice.
The Commission licenses over 200 persons to hold Class II wildlife as personal pets. (As of 2003 there were 579 holding Class II and 408 holding Class I. The restrictions are not slowing down the boom. It is doubtful that the money and manpower has been doubled, despite more than doubling the places to inspect.) Therefore, regulations regarding the keeping of these animals is vital to such interests. The Commission’s philosophy regarding wildlife pets has always been that we do not recommend them to the inexperienced. However, under the proper guidelines, we believe that such human/wildlife interactions are beneficial. Therefore, we have not prohibited the possession of wildlife pets, as some states have. Our experience has been, that most all of our biologists, and probably most individuals in this room, have at one time kept a wildlife pet. So we want to keep alive the privilege to keep certain types of wildlife as pets, provided such permitted individuals keep animals in a responsible way under the proper guidelines. If we outlaw the keeping of native animals as pets, then we will force wildlife fanciers to keep non-native wildlife. Escaped non-native wildlife can present a hazard to humans, native species, and our environment. Florida ‘s laws prohibit the release of non indigenous animals. (Hurricanes don’t care about the rules and most places are ill equipped to prevent such unintentional release. Our cage design was the only exotic animal enclosure left standing in Arcadia in one of the state’s three accredited rescue facilities, after Charly)
3. Mr. Ken Johnson. Mr. Johnson represents the Humane Society of the United States . He has worked with the Commission and Wildlife Inspectors for over a decade. Mr. Johnson’s work as a humane investigator has taken him to a wide variety of locales world wide, and his work in Florida has repeatedly brought him into liaison with the Commission. Captive wildlife issues and minimum caging specifications are of particular interest to him. In fact, it was at his suggestion that the Commission established the Captive Wildlife Committee.
4. Ms. Lee Ann Pennington. Ms. Pennington is past president of the Florida Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, and a licensed falconer . Ms. Pennington’s experience with non game wildlife as a rehabilitator recently led to her employment with the Commission . She is now stationed in Lakeland in her role as Education Specialist. How do you teach people to respect wildlife while you keep your chained to a post?
The Commission licenses nearly 300 wildlife rehabilitators in Florida . Like exhibits, rehabilitation facilities run the gambit from small operations based in private households that rehab a few dozen animals per year to operations, such as the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, in Pinellas County , that rehabilitates hundreds. Should there be separate facility requirements for permanently impaired wildlife kept in rehabilitation centers? Many of these centers also serve as wildlife educators and have licenses to exhibit wildlife from the Commission. Addressing rehabilitation issues will be an interesting and challenging undertaking for the Committee.
5. Mr. Eugene Bessette. Mr. Bessette represents the Gainesville Herpetological Association and is owner/operator of Ophilogical Services in Archer , Florida . Florida has a large reptile trade (Mr. Bessette has a large reptile trade, including venomous snakes). We have 50 alligator farms which possess alligators and other crocodilians for the hide market, as well as for exhibition and the pet trade. We have several thousand reptile dealers and importers. Also, reptiles provide some of the most popular attraction displays at Florida zoos. We have over 400 individuals licensed to possess venomous reptiles for personal and commercial use. Evaluating current requirements for reptiles kept in exhibits, importation facilities, pet shops, and homes will be challenging work for the Committee.
In years past, proposed legislative bills would have completely outlawed the possession of wildlife or the importation of reptiles and other species. Mr. Bessette has worked with the Commission and other groups to halt unreasonable regulation of wildlife owners through ill-conceived legislation.
6. Ms. Sharon Wills. Ms. Wills represents the Florida Federation of Avian Societies. Pssittacine birds make up an important part of Florida zoos. Also, pet shop sales, private ownership, and breeding of exotics is extensive. In addition, there are many bird shows in Florida that attract participants from all over the world. The Commission licenses a thousand or more bird exhibitors and dealers. The pen specifications for exotic birds are an important consideration in any captive wildlife regulation change. Ms. Wills has worked with the Commission on legislative issues in the past. Her association promotes the ownership of exotic birds, one of the largest issues for sanctuaries, who must take in all of the birds that “don’t work out”. Because there is so much abuse in the exotic bird industry, USDA has finally decided to start regulating it, but acknowledges that to do so will increase the number of facilities they have to inspect from 10,000 to 20,000 with the same number of inspectors and budget.
7. Ms. Julie Strauss. Ms. Strauss represents the Ringling Brothers Circus , and as such, the interests of other traveling exhibits. She is an attorney and has worked with the Commission in the past on proposed elephant regulations and other issues.
We have about 50 traveling exhibits that enter Florida each year for tour purposes. Many have their winter quarters in South Florida . Evaluating current regulations to determine fair and equitable standards for traveling wildlife is an important part of this Committee’s work.
8. Ms. Yvonne Finser. Ms. Finser is the owner of Finser Exotics, based in Umatilla. Her facility houses Class I, II, and III wildlife. Ms. Finser has many years of husbandry experience, with a great deal of expertise with Class I primates and cats. She is very active in Commission efforts to regulate captive animals, and to apply reasonable requirements to commercial wildlife entities and private possessors. There are thousands of such licensees in Florida . She has played an important role in the Commission’s captive wildlife regulation review process since 1989. She represents the Florida Alternative Livestock Association, which has members throughout the state.
Yvonne Finser: February 17, 2000: A woman required hospital treatment after she was bitten on the hand by a tiger at Amazing Exotics in Umatilla, Fla. , an exotic animal breeding and training compound that also offers “close encounters” with dangerous animals. Circus trainer Ron Holiday became an educator at Amazing Exotics after his wife and a trainer were both killed by the same tiger within a six-week period in 1998. The tiger, who had been used in Shrine Circuses, was later shot to death. She charges 2900.00 for a course in how to train big cats, led by Ron Holiday. In addition to giving people the hours they need for their license to own the big cats she also breeds and sells tigers and monkeys. Most of her cages were just corn cribs the last time I was there.
9. Captain Jerry Thompson: Captain Thompson has 22 years of experience in the Commission’s Division of Law Enforcement. He has served as a Wildlife Officer, a Wildlife Inspector, a Staff Supervisor, and is currently the Statewide Inspections Coordinator in Tallahassee . Captain Thompson’s depth of enforcement knowledge, his practical wildlife related experience, and his supervisory authority over the Inspections Section, provides a vital link in the review and passage of successful captive wildlife regulations. Captain Thompson will serve as Vice Chairman of the Committee and is charged with recording all work sessions and making arrangements for all meeting setups. He will also chair meetings in absence of the chairman.
10. Major Kyle Hill: Major Hill is the Bureau Chief of Support Services and has 22 years of Commission law enforcement and administrative experience. Support Services houses the Wildlife Inspections Section, which he supervised directly for a number of years. Major Hill is well acquainted with the wildlife industry and served as an advisor on the first Wildlife Exhibitors Criteria Committee and the Wildlife Pet Council. These entities developed the first minimum pen specifications for captive wildlife and the regulations regarding wildlife kept as personal pets. He will serve as chairman of the Captive Wildlife Committee.
Obviously it is important to have some of your staff on the committee as well, but their jobs are largely focused on dealing with captive wild animals and the people who own them. Since the majority of people that they deal with each day are people who own and use animals they may not have the benefit of an outside perspective.
Only .0005 of our 17 million person population owns exotic animals. One animal user on the committee would (percentage wise) be 9.9995 more than is represented by our state.
Carole Baskin was rejected as a member of this committee despite her qualifications. See her proposed changes to the current regulations HERE. Or download a copy in Word HERE by right clicking and Save Target As to your hard drive.
Col. Julie Jones June 14, 2005 & previously on April 30, 2005
620 S. Meridian Street
Tallahassee , FL 32399-1600
(904) 488-3641 fax (904) 922-9090
Dear Col. Jones,
I received your invitation yesterday and am resending the letter I formerly sent on April 30, 2005 with some modification.
I am very glad to hear the FWC is creating the Captive Wildlife Technical Assistance Group to look at a few of the rules to see how they could be better worded and implemented. I invite you to visit Big Cat Rescue and feel free to bring your family to make an outing of it if it is just too hard to get away during working hours. Our video was enclosed in the package sent April 30,2005.
Poorly written or poorly enforced exotic animal rules are why sanctuaries exist and we would all like to see ourselves “put out of business” by creating rules and ways to enforce them that keep exotic animals from being abused or in need of shelter in the first place. We bear the burden, financially, physically and emotionally when people find loop holes around Florida ‘s laws regarding exotics and I would really like to do what I can to put an end to this abuse.
Because real sanctuaries (not those who are in the business of trading in animals under the guise of being a sanctuary) are the ones most impacted by poorly written and enforced laws it would seem critical for us to have a voice on this committee.
I would like to serve on this committee for two reasons. The first is that I would like to build a better rapport with FWC and learn what the challenges are that you have to deal with to be effective. Helping you overcome those obstacles helps the animals. The second is because I believe there is a need for a perspective that considers what the polls tell us is the majority belief. 68% of the people polled do not believe that big cats (cougars on up) belong in private hands. Half of those don’t believe that exotic cats belong in captivity at all. 78% don’t think that those in possession of exotic animals have adequate training or experience. Only 22% of those polled think the status quo is appropriate, but most of those believe that being regulated by USDA and FWC means someone is keeping track of what the owners are doing with their animals and that is woefully inaccurate.
Briefly, my resume includes that I am the founder and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, the world’s largest accredited rescue facility for exotic cats. We house 100+ exotic cats representing 18 species of wildcat on 45 acres. We have more than 40,000 supporters and a $1,000,000.00 a year budget that does not include any governmental support. Neither family nor friend is paid from BCR giving us added credibility of doing this for the right reason and not for personal gain. We have 100+ volunteers and 13 interns from around the world. I have run this Tampa based non profit for 13 years and you may have seen us on CNN, Animal Planet, Discovery, People Magazine, Sports Illustrated, all of the local media outlets and many more national and international programs.
The attached list shows we have been in the press, in a positive light, more than 252 times year.
bigcatrescue.org gets more than 1,000,000 hits per DAY. That is not a typo; it is our claim to fame. I am the administrator of our 12,000 file web site which is considered the ultimate resource for anything that has to do with exotic cats, sanctuary standards or captive wildlife management. In 1993 I wrote the first comprehensive 100+ page book on the husbandry of exotic cats in captivity and have offered it for free on our web site, distributing hundreds of bound copies and untold numbers of downloaded digital copies.
Because we are internationally accepted as experts on these topics I have been asked to provide lectures in Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Brazil, and Australia, as well as countless cities across our own nation. I have lectured
on cage construction, legislative affairs, and sanctuary standards in Universities, Law Colleges, and in numerous animal association conferences.
We offer a service via our web site to connect the public with their legislators. This comes at a huge cost each year to us, but is perhaps the best investment we have made to stop the flow of exotic animals into the hands of private citizens who are ill equipped to care for them. In 2003 we had to turn away more than 300 big cats and every year that number had been doubling. In 2003 the President signed the Captive Wild Animal Safety Act into law and the number of unwanted cats the following year dropped to half. The act prohibits the sale of big cats, including cougars, across state lines as pets. When that market was restricted there was an immediate spike in the number of big cats turned loose, or sited and thought to have been these former breeders, across the country.
In just the first year and a half of providing this service 35,000 people have written their legislators saying that the breeding, sale, and exploitation in road side exhibitions, unaccredited zoos and fair grounds of exotic cats
should be stopped. One person wrote in and said she wanted to buy a monkey and asked that the laws not be passed. (It should be noted that she couldn’t even spell monkey.) Florida has a population of 18 million people and only .0002 own exotic animals and yet this minuscule minority are the people that have primarily been viewed as the “stake holders” to be listened to by FWC.
I am licensed by the state as a rehabber and have successfully rehabbed and released a number of bobcats and other native animals. We were featured on Fox 13 this past year for our successful rehab and release of a baby bobcat named Faith. We work with a number of veterinarians and offer a Spay and Play poster for them to display that gives their clients free passes to see Big Cat Rescue if they spay or neuter a pet. I provide the supply trailer and driver for our monthly Spay Day which is responsible for spaying or neutering 160 domestic cats each month.
We are accredited by and I am the immediate past President of The Association of Sanctuaries (a national accredited body that is to rescue facilities what the AZA is to zoos. This prestigious accrediting body has 23 nationally accredited facilities housing all types of exotic and native wildlife. Only 3 of Florida ‘s rescue facilities are accredited because to be accredited you cannot buy, breed, sell nor exploit the animals).
I am the legal liaison to the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, and responsible for representing The Association of Sanctuaries at their meetings. I supply CWAPC with all of the current data on exotic cat issues,
including the numbers being displaced, the maulings, escapes and killings of both the public and the cats involved. I scan the media daily for news regarding exotic cats and report to some 300 people of three different groups with the daily headlines.
Since this writing I have been elected unanimously to the board of directors of Humane USA’s Political Action Campaign which is the nations largest animal advocacy PAC.
I was appointed by Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair as a member of the Animal Advisory Committee to assist Animal Services in their service to the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners. I serve as its Chair. This 10 member panel includes stakeholders from The Humane Society, the veterinary community and several rescue groups. The notion of comprising this board of animal breeders and sellers would never have been considered because it would not have assisted the county in creating better laws.
I am a member of the Better Business Bureau, the Florida Association of the Restoration of Ethics, a member of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, The Tampabay Visitors and Convention Bureau, the American Zoological Association, No More Homeless Pets, and other animal welfare groups. I serve on the board for Humane USA’s Political Action Campaign in an effort to create a safer and more compassionate community through legislation. We assist other accredited rescue facilities by helping them build cages, train their volunteers and we lend our people and resources to help them recover from natural and man made disasters. We are licensed by and in good standing with FWC, USFWS, USDA and are registered with the
state as a charity.
I own and manage a multi million dollar real estate investment company and have done so for the past 20 years. In that role I manage employees and tenants and negotiate with buyers and sellers in a highly competitive field. This business allows me the flexibility of schedule and finances to be able to devote myself to ending the suffering and abuse of exotic cats. It also has cultivated my capacity to resolve conflict and negotiate for a win-win situation.
I have drafted a 67 page revision of the current captive wildlife laws in Florida that I would like to propose to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission. I believe these suggestions would be helpful in decreasing the number of incidents involving dangerous captive wild animals in our state.
It was attached in bound form to the letter mailed April 30, 2005 with changes sketched in. While there are also edits to the statutes, I understand that this Committee would have no impact in that area.
Although my primary focus is on exotic cats, I have addressed all dangerous animals in the current rules and as the past president of The Association of Sanctuaries I am aware of the best practices in care for most exotic species. I have immediate access to true professionals in the care of most species who provide lifetime care and are not just in the business to breed and sell.
Based on all of the above, I do not believe that you could find a person more uniquely qualified to serve on this Captive Wildlife Committee than me. Attached is supporting evidence, highlighted for easy reading, because I know that your time is precious. I am happy to meet with you, your staff and/or your facilitator for any further questions that you may have.
Please let me know that you received this letter and your decision. Thank you for your time.
For the cats, Carole Baskin, Founder 813.920.4130 x 4 cell phone and best way to reach me.
I came home from this meeting and cried tonight, because apathy and ignorance will likely insure that in Florida exotic cats will continue to be bred for lives of confinement and deprivation and children and adults will continue to be mauled, maimed for life and killed as a result.
Florida isn’t like other states. In other states the citizens have the right to petition their lawmakers to create laws that protect the public from those like R. Donovan Smith who said today, that it is “his God given right to have any animal he wants.” He makes a living bringing chained big cats to your party or event and was appointed to the 11 member Captive Wild Animal Technical Assistance Group to advise the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission on their regulations.
In Florida the agency known as the FWCC makes all the rules regarding exotic animals and neither you, nor your political representatives can do a thing about it due to the agency being granted constitutional authority over all wildlife. The agency answers to a board of Commissioners, but they aren’t elected either. They are appointed by the Governor. As long as people continue to be mauled and killed by tigers in the U.S. the next Governor’s race could depend largely on a candidate’s commitment to overhauling this entire set up.
Meanwhile, I sat there in a group of people that was largely composed of exotic animal owners who don’t want anyone telling them what they can or can’t do. Walking into the room was a little tense with Vernon Yates screaming at me all the way down the hall and then following me into the room screaming until the officers began to walk toward him and he stomped out. (He’s peeved that I chase him out of parking lots every time I see him drag his flat bed trailer load of big cats out onto the blistering asphalt.) All of that I expected. I knew the composition of the committee was stacked to try and make FWCC look good, because it was selected by them and their attitude has always been that they believe they are the ultimate authority and do not want any input from anyone who doesn’t agree with their way of doing things.
I still was surprised by the level of self indulgence. Col. Jones stated, “I need to be able to say we’ve done a good assessment and that is what this Committee is all about.” Commissioner Meehan said that he is confidant that the Committee will present a tidy little bundle that he and his fellow commissioners can agree to despite me pointing out repeatedly that this committee does not in any way reflect the views of the majority. Most of the committee felt that counties are using the term “appropriate neighborhoods” to exclude them and their friends and were arguing to drop the term from the language. The quote of the day came during this discussion when Gloria Johnson, the owner of two pet cougars said, “We shouldn’t use terminology that can be used against us because we shouldn’t have to cow-tow to the public.”
Bill Armstrong was the voice of reason when he presented that because of changing attitudes people aren’t comfortable with having dangerous animals next door. The committee had been insisting that the public just didn’t know the facts and that these animals aren’t really a danger to them, but Bill said he didn’t think the average soccer mom could be “educated” into believing that a 500 predator next door wasn’t a potential danger. He said that our County Administrator , Pat Bean, has made it her vision to make Hillsborough County the best place in the nation to live. He said he has been under considerable pressure to post the whereabouts of dangerous animals online just as the county does with dangerous dogs and sexual predators.
Donovan Smith went into a full blown fit at the notion of being grouped with sexual predators and blabbered on at length about it. I came to the conclusion that he is mesmerized by his own voice, because despite being hushed and reprimanded by the facilitator, Julie, repeatedly he continued to speak out of turn, talk over the others and ramble incessantly showing his utter lack of understanding of the issues.
The others kept trying to minimize Bill’s reflection of the community by saying only Hillsborough County is making a big deal out of this, but Armstrong pointed out that he represents the Florida Animal Control Association and this is a state wide perception shift against the keeping of dangerous animals, not just Hillsborough or Pinellas County .
For the most part the group did not want to change the status quo and Gloria suggested that the counties be responsible for making their own laws, but Col. Jones stated that FWCC has constitutional authority over ALL wildlife and counties CAN NOT make their own rules that would be more restrictive. Playing Devil’s advocate Col. Jones went on to address Donovan’s statement that owning big cats was “being all you can be in America !” to say that Smith may be “exercising his God given right to keep big cats but that he should recognize the fact that opinions on that are changing and he may find himself the odd man out.”
Eugene Bessette opined that “Counties can’t handle their drugs, crimes and sexual predators, so their picking on exotic animals as an easy fix to make themselves look good.” Bill Armstrong asked that the group try to listen to the problems he was representing to them because people are becoming more politically active and the group needs to come up with suggestions for regulations that will be broadly accepted. Ken Johnson, from HSUS concurred that this isn’t just Hillsborough and Pinellas County that are seeing a change in beliefs about animals but that this is happening everywhere and he illustrated that with the recent streak of exotic animal bans across the nation.
Someone suggested that people wouldn’t be so concerned if the press weren’t always telling them about every little thing and Col. Jones agreed that no one cared about a particular pet lion until the neighbors knew there was a pet lion in the neighborhood. It seems the answer this group would like is that they be allowed to continue under the cover of anonymity so that people won’t find out and react predictably to shut them down. They all seem to agree that if people knew what they were doing they wouldn’t stand for it.
Susan Clubb, DVM a wholesale parrot and reptile breeder said that she and her mother lived near Tarzan and Bobo and when Bobo the tiger was running loose she was afraid for her mother’s life but that the media circus that ensued was even more frightening because “all of that media attention would cause me the right to keep my animals.” In direct contrast to that line of thought she also said, “I am sure that cat’s owner never thought one of his cats would get out either!”
There was considerable discussion about how many meetings, how many days and what topics needed to be covered first. Since there is legislation coming up about penalties, Col. Jones suggested they address those next. There are only planned to be 4 meetings to cover the entire set of regulations and one – two days have been devoted just to how to deal with the term “appropriate neighborhoods” before some of this legislation is going to be submitted.
Captain West said that the concept of “appropriate neighborhoods” was what had been the impetus for the 1994 Committee. At that time you could keep a tiger on ¼ acre and in a condo and people were complaining. The original term only dealt with the size of land, which ended up being 5 acres because that was the most the Committee could agree on despite suggestions that it be 20 acres. Captain West said the term has evolved to a much broader concept. Capt. West said that Hillsborough County residents are complaining that there is a lot more to “appropriate neighborhoods” than lot size. Bill Armstrong added by saying that county residents are asking him to consider proximity to schools, nurseries, and densely populated areas.
Captain West volunteered that structures and activities can be regulated by counties, but not wildlife possession in and of itself. He clarified that cage size and placement can be regulated by counties and that a commercial activity could be restricted in some zonings. Bill asked if HC created an ordinance saying that no cage could be more than 5’11” tall, which would preclude the state’s requirement for a 6′ tall cage? West agreed that they could and went on to say that a county could make existing cage owners come down to standard and if they couldn’t they would have to move or tear down the cage, but Col. Jones quickly jumped in and said that was not the case and that a county could not pass such an ordinance to try and keep wild animals out or else it would have to apply to all structures such as sheds and swing sets. She said a county could do it, but that it wouldn’t stand up in court if it were challenged. I do not agree and the June 2005 Charlotte County case would not bear out her assertion.
Donovan Smith pointed to Rhode Island going door to door euthanizing pit bulls because they have been deemed dangerous. Some of the group commiserated that they were being asked to perform an impossible task, that it is too much work to deal with all of the details and the public just needs to be educated that these Class I animals are not dangerous. Most of the group appears to be unfamiliar with the FWCC regulations but this showed to what extent given the FWCC describes “Class I wildlife are dangerous species that may not be kept as personal pets.”
Col. Jones said that the long range work of the group will be after Jan. 2006 to perhaps review the classes and re-class some animals. The group seemed to think this would be a great way to lessen the restrictions, but Captain West pointed out that usually the result is a tightening of restrictions. Dr. Terri Parrot-Nenezian felt that they should do this species by species but Col. Jones said she wants a definition of “appropriate neighborhoods” first before the group consider what animals would be appropriate because “to do it species by species would take forever.”
Again the group began arguing that they should just delete the phrase so that counties can’t use it against them to deny them setting up wherever they want to.
Going back to the subject on the table Bill pointed out that the public doesn’t see a cougar as any less dangerous than a leopard. When Dan Martinelli could get a word in edgewise, over Donovan giving everyone an unsolicited history of the naming of the Florida Panther and Gloria shouting Puma Concolor over him, Dan argued that some people are afraid of tree frogs and that the “committee shouldn’t have to cater to the public.”
Ken Johnson said he felt the term “appropriate neighborhood” could be done away with if it were replaced with a sufficiently complete description. Terri said she is afraid the county will use it against her.
Discussion diverted to defining Class I and the idea of dropping Carnivore from the current language so that Class I requirements would be the same for all Class I animals. All agreed, except Bessette who said he would contest some snakes and venomous reptiles (the mainstay of his trade) having the same requirements at a later time.
Captain Linda Harrison said that during the last Committee 20 acres was proposed as an appropriate neighborhood, but that the industry would not agree to it being more than 5. Gloria suggested that perhaps the number of acres should escalate with the number of animals. Most did not agree with that and felt it would be impossible to enforce, but Col. Jones said she didn’t think it would be an enforcement issue because they would know how many acres the person had and how many animals.
Captain West spoke to the heart of the matter when he said “People perceive 1 tiger on 1 acres just as dangerous as 20 tigers on 20 acres. People aren’t as concerned with the number of animals or the number of acres as they are with the concept of an appropriate neighborhood.” This was when Gloria Johnson made her statement, “We shouldn’t use terminology that can be used against us because we shouldn’t have to cow-tow to the public.”
Dan said that Bill’s constituents want the number of exotic animals to be zero and the committee sitting there today wants all they can get, so they need to find a balance. I am sure Gloria was trying to make a case for no more regulation, but the words themselves say it all when she declared, “10 acres is no more safe than 5. It doesn’t matter how high my fence is, if someone comes with a pair of bolt cutters my cats are going to be let loose.” Dr. Susan Clubb pointed out that “Bobo the tiger could travel more than 10 acres in a heartbeat.”
Captain West, having been ignored when he made this statement affirmatively now turned to Bill Armstrong and asked, “Do the acre sizes address the problems your people in Hillsborough County and Pinellas County have?” Of course Bill answered that it does not. Bill suggested that they go for tighter restrictions and the FWCC still has the authority to waive their own restrictions on a case by case basis.
The subject turned, for the hundredth time, to an assurance to all on the group that they would be grandfathered in to do whatever they are doing now, as would all their friends. That was the biggest concern of the most of them all day. Donovan was happy because he said that would allow him to sell his rights when he decides to move and Bill challenged why that is being allowed. Bill asked Captain Linda Harrison why we should assume that a right that is grandfathered in can be sold to a new owner. She didn’t answer. Bill persisted and said if a person had a tiger on a ¼ acre can he sell that facility to a new owner to keep a tiger on that same parcel?” He had to present it four times because the rest of the group was trying to divert the conversation by adding bears, and people dying and passing own pet owner rights and all manner of things he wasn’t asking. Finally Captain West spoke up and said the license is good until it lapses. As long as someone was renewing it, it would live on forever, regardless of the number of new owners.
Bill said he could understand how FWCC would grandfather in someone so that they were not put out of business or required to give up their animal but that he could not condone the continuation of not meeting current requirements when a new owner comes in. He reasoned that if you say ¼ acre isn’t safe, but 5 acres is, then how can you continue to allow people to buy into a position that isn’t safe? Joe Christman had been quiet until now, but he agreed. Ken said he would not condone the transferring of a license to a future owner where the property did not meet the current standards. Oddly, Captain West said that he was “afraid that a community that doesn’t want a facility will be able to shut down a place when it sells even if it was grandfathered in at its current size.”
At 4:50 Julie recapped their day and summarized that the group
Agreed not to use the words “appropriate neighborhood” but will set some minimum size requirement.
Need better language on leasing.
Didn’t discuss the issue of if all of the land has to be contiguous or adjacent to prevent a parcel kitty-corner from being included in the land lease requirement.
All are OK with grandfathering but the majority would like to see a transfer as an opportunity to require the new owner to come up to current standards.
That the group will re assess the definition of a Class I animal.
Ken said that the Legislature has a different attitude toward describing Class I, II and III than the FWCC at which time Capt. West jumped up and said that FWCC has the right to define those classes, not the state legislature.
The meeting was adjourned.
The meeting resumed August 26, 2005 at 8:30 am at the Hilton Garden Inn at 600 Tampa Oaks Blvd. Tampa, FL 33637-1004 813.342.6000
Bill Armstrong asked if the committee shouldn’t consider the prudence of not allowing Class I in Residential zoning. Donavan said that Class I doesn’t belong in an industrial park any more than they belong in residential neighborhoods and suggested visual barriers so that the animals can hide from people trying to see them.
Eugene stated emphatically, “We did a great job in 94-97!”. Dan said he would be very uncomfortable in proposing a regulation against Class I animals in residentially zoned areas. Captain Linda Harrison said that only 3 crocs got out in the storms of 2004. I would assume that means no one called them about the lions running down US 41 in Punta Gorda and she obviously didn’t get a report from Peace River that only one of their cages was left standing and the rest of their collection was running wild. I drove through the middle of them. Captain West stated the truth when he said, “Nothing is going to be perfect if we get a Hurricane Andrew.”
The subject turned back to perimeter fencing and Dan said, “This is going to be more and more of a problem as more people are exposed to our animals.” His suggestion was to add another layer of perimeter fencing to which Gloria asked, “Where does it end?” Susan said she was worried about a line of sight barrier because whatever that would be made of would just catch the wind.
Bill pointed out that public participation has increased dramatically in the last couple of years and that even at his level of government he is seeing many more people get involved in every aspect of the process including finances. He acknowledged that the FWCC is unique in their ability to make their own rules and he asked for verification if that is a privilege that only FWCC enjoys and they agreed that it is. Bill referred to a ground swell of concerned citizens who are making themselves heard. He suggested that if the public doesn’t like what this group comes up with he doesn’t think they will sit still for it.
Donovan said, “A leopard can jump a 20 foot fence, so a 6 foot or 8 foot fence really is just a people fence.”
Some of the group suggested that if people don’t want to live next to their animals, they should have to live in deed restricted communities. Dr. Coffman asked Captain West if a deed restriction could be that you couldn’t have exotic animals and Captain West said that would be a grey area. Lee asked more specifically, “If Hillsborough County wanted to create more requirements that would apply to all residents, would FWCC be willing to work with them?” He went on to say that this group probably should not provide that option in the regulations, but wanted to know if that was possible at all. He never did get an answer so he asked if the FWCC would provide the group with their new applicant check list and forms so that they would know what a new applicant is being asked to do. Captain West agreed to do that.
Bill said that Hillsborough County is 1072 square miles and he will try to find out how much is residentially zoned, saying that he didn’t think it was so much as to preclude plenty of places for people to have animals, but he insisted, “We really don’t need to be putting new Class I facilities in residential areas.”
Captain West said, ” Charlotte County is crating a problem for animal owners right now and Hillsborough and Pinellas County are doing the same on a smaller scale, but there isn’t much going on elsewhere.”
Dr. Clubb changed the subject by saying she wanted to talk about exemptions for baby apes and baby big cats. West said that the “temporary housing section already addresses it.”
Bill asked for specific examples of where a County can exclude a Class I permittee since the FWCC kept saying that counties already had the right to regulate with their zoning ordinances. Captain West suggested that a County could say in their zoning that in a certain district there could be no cages over 6 feet tall to house “animals.” Since that would apply to sheds, pets and horses, that wouldn’t be an ordinance a county would likely impose to keep their neighborhoods safe. Bill summarized by saying that “Even though the words, “ensuring that cages or enclosures are not in violation of county zoning law” are there the Counties really can’t prevent dangerous animals because they can’t regulate out all structures that would be over 6 feet tall.
Dr. Parrot-Nenezian said Weston County doesn’t allow these kinds of structures. Donovan said, “You are trying to remove all of these Class I animals by labeling them as dangerous before they actually are.” To which Armstrong responded, “Class I predators are hard wired to be dangerous.”
Julie summarized the progress thus far by saying that most seem to be comfortable with the idea of a 35′ buffer. Gloria interrupted saying, “If the person next door has a problem with seeing the animal, they can put up their own privacy fence!” She went on to describe how she had done so to protect her cats from being an attractive nuisance. Joe said he was opposed to a visual barrier because Disney is on 500 acres, has no neighbors and it would cost them millions to comply and not serve the animals or the neighbors they don’t have.
Julie tried to continue with her summary by acknowledging that Bill has a tough job on this panel because “everyone is just piling on against him when he is just representing the counties’ citizens and what they want.” She went on to say that Bill seems to be the only one that thinks a 35′ buffer, by itself, is inadequate. She continued saying that she has heard recommendations on lock downs, hahas (a dry moat sort of barrier) and shift areas.
Bill queried, “If a County required a buffer around captive wildlife, would that requirement stand since that is singling out exotic owners?” He went on to explain that residential zoning doesn’t call for a line of sight barrier, like you would have in a commercial development, so to effectively require a foliage or other barrier around wild animals a County would have to require that ALL residences have such a barrier. Bill said he would try to get a legal opinion on that and Susan said Palm Beach County has very stringent landscaping requirements that require certain ratios of palm trees to oaks, etc.
Julie picked up where she left off with saying she heard discussion on lock downs and hurricane preparedness plans. Dr. Coffman said that every facility should be required to have a disaster plan when he expanded “We are entering an era where we are more aware of human/wildlife interaction and disease transmission.” Captain West said, “We (FWCC) don’t regulate health issues.” He continued saying that only 6 people in the state still have Class I pets under grandfathering that had allowed it. “We don’t have a requirement that licensees provide a disaster plan. Florida is prime for disasters and that would be a good idea.” Dr. Clubb said she thought having a plan is a great idea but she didn’t think it should have to be submitted to FWCC because USDA doesn’t require it. She said USDA requires you to fill out a disaster plan and have it in your files as part of their 2 page Program of Veterinary Care. (This is a one line item to which the applicant fills in the blank called: Emergency Care. In its context the item refers to veterinary emergencies, but one could expand on it to include facility plans if they chose to attach something. Nothing would suggest that a facility do so.)
Dan said that Martin County requires all animal businesses to submit their emergency plans but that one such plan read, “I plan to get in my truck and drive to Gainesville” so there is currently no way to standardize. Ken said a disaster plan should be required to have certain key elements to overcome Martin County ‘s issue. Bill said, “What I would like to see is a clear plan based upon models created by experts for each of these dangerous animals.” Dan said, “In Andrew we had places with big cats, where the facilities had been scraped clean, like with a putty knife.” Donovan asked Captain West if any dangerous animals got loose and he responded that, “.several cougars got loose, 5000 primates and in some areas, all of Africa was running loose.”
Bill said this is an area where he has some level of expertise as participant of the local Florida State Emergency Operations Center ESF17. At this point Eugene asked that everyone introduce themselves, including the public. We all did and when he got to me, he asked who the man in the suit was that had been sitting next to me and I told him it was my husband. I thought it rather odd that he would ask about someone who had already left. Kaylene Jones was sitting in for Julie Strauss which is why I hadn’t seen Julie for the past two days.
Donovan wanted to volunteer his services to the county to pick up animals during emergencies. He went on at great length about his ability to deal with all kinds of dangerous animals, detailed all of his equipment and said he would really like to get involved. Col. Jones said that Vernon Yates had offered similar services yesterday but that she didn’t know if FWCC could grant authority to private citizens to go in and pick up other people’s animals. She continued, “We don’t need you going into a storm affected area because we’ll have to be rescuing your butts as well.” She admonished that the FWCC should be the first to respond, making sure no one was going to fry from downed power lines and such before relying on outside help. (I really like her No-Nonsense style) Bill suggested that if people want to help they should contact the EOC ESF17 Coordinator, Dr. Christy and let him know what expertise and equipment is available.
Susan asked if there is a way of obtaining a list of FWCC licensees and Captain Harrison said it is public record and available, but did not elaborate on how hard it is to get a copy. I have had to wait for months in the past and this last time have been ignored for six months or more already. It isn’t something you can get the day before the storm and it has a fee attached to it as well. Dr. Clubb continued by asking if there is a large number of primate people who would be impacted by increasing Class II to 2.5 acres. None of these people would be impacted because they would be grandfathered in, but this is a repeating theme throughout of participants being concerned about losing their current rights. I can see if your business relies on selling animals to new buyers that this could impact your sales, but it can’t significantly impact current owners. She said she understood about the grandfathering, but her question left me wondering why she would ask.
Julie Morris, continuing with her summary said she heard that the group is going to gather templates for disaster management, including USDA’s Program of Veterinary Care.
Col. Julie Jones said that some issues that need to be discussed will be exhibition and training requirements of new applicants, but she said the deadlines approaching for her new rule making requires that this group come up with a “One size fits all” requirement based on the current Class I, II and III. “Everything that happened with Aronoff’s lion was just public perception. Perception, as much as you would like to think is NOT the issue, really IS the issue and you’re going to have to deal with that.” One would have to assume that, unlike so many people who have seen that situation first hand, Col. Jones had not seen the situation for herself to have made that statement. She seemed to be relying on reports that the cages were the proper size and gauge and not on the husbandry conditions.
Joe said, “I am really uncomfortable with the way the classifications are currently designated” making it impossible to establish rules on existing situations that he would think inappropriate to be existing situations. Dr. Coffman said that when they go back to re class animals they should look to the Florida Statutes language as a guide.
Florida Statutes 372.922 (2) The classifications of types of wildlife and fees to be paid for permits for the personal possession of wildlife shall be as follows:
(a) Class I–Wildlife which, because of its nature, habits, or status, shall not be possessed as a personal pet.
(b) Class II–Wildlife considered to present a real or potential threat to human safety, the sum of $140 per annum.
(c) Class III–All other wildlife not included in Class I or Class II, for which a no-cost permit must be obtained from the commission.
Julie continued her summary by saying that she hears the group is pretty comfortable with requiring all Class I species (not just carnivores) to be on no less than 5 acres. Most agreed that there are animals currently in Class II that should be reclassed to Class I.
Despite having scheduled to be there working on these issues until 3PM, the group decided to end at noon, but before they did, they set up their next meeting times as September 29-30, October 20-21 and December 8-9 beginning at 9 am and ending at 2 pm on the last of each two day session. FWCC staff will determine where the meetings will be held, but are considering Tampa and Orlando due to the central location in the state. The next meeting will discuss more on what constitutes an “appropriate neighborhood.”
I was encouraged that some good is coming of this group that includes their consideration of:
1. Reclassing some animals from Class II to Class I
2. Requiring 5 acres for all Class I animals
3. Requiring disaster plans
All of those would be improvements to the current regulations. These meetings are important for the public to attend so that you have a better understanding of the industry. We are not allowed to comment openly, but may send our comments to the group via mail or email. At the end of this group’s meetings the public will be invited to comment, but I have been to many of these public hearings and the public is usually limited to 1-3 minutes. On issues that concern a lot of citizens, like when the FWCC announced that it would shoot feral cats on public lands, so many people show up that they are not all given the chance to be heard. In many cases a person will not be allowed to be heard unless they have attended previous meetings where their comment was not allowed and signed the register.
Keep track of what is happening here: http://myfwc.com/captive/CaptiveWildlifeTAG.html
To make your written comments the group has not announced how the public will be able to do that, so until then I would suggest that you contact these two FWCC employees who are serving on the committee:
Division of Law Enforcement’s Investigation Section
620 South Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600
It is very important, if you care about what your neighbor is going to be allowed to have in the yard next door to you, that you attend these meetings regularly, be sure to sign in and put your comments in writing and ask that they be a part of the permanent record. The people who make their living charging the public to have their photos with the baby tiger, or who profit from breeding and selling animals into canned hunts WILL be there opposing new regulations. They have a financial incentive to be there. The animals are counting on you to be there to speak for them.