Debate roars over wildlife permits

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Debate roars over wildlife permits


The Gainesville Sun



Sun staff writer

12:00 am, October 9, 2007


The lions and tigers and bears stayed at home, but some of their owners came to a meeting Monday in Gainesville to fight a proposal that they notify neighbors if an animal escapes their property.


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is considering requiring holders of Class I wildlife permits to notify neighbors and local emergency personnel about escapes.


The permits are required for owners of big cats such as tigers, large primates like baboons and large wildlife like elephants, bears and rhinoceroses.


Commissioners had considered a much broader rule requiring anyone who obtains or makes changes to a Class I permit to notify neighbors.


But after permit holders raised privacy concerns, commissioners decided to move forward with a rule requiring notification only in the case of escapes.


The meeting in Gainesville and a meeting today in Fort Lauderdale will gather public comment before commissioners make a final decision in December.


Kathy Stearns, who runs a wildlife center in Dade City, said only the commission – and not neighbors – should be notified.


Telling neighbors of escapes could attract them to the scene and put them in danger, she said.


"That’s going to put them more at risk and my animals more at risk," she said.


Debra Sandlin, an Archer resident who has Class I permits but currently has none of the animals, pointed out the lack of requirements that neighbors be notified of other potentially dangerous activities.


"They don’t have to say, ‘Hey I have 10 handguns and I like to fire them on my property,’ " she said.


There are 27 Class I permit holders in the Gainesville region.


They include zoos, wildlife sanctuaries and wildlife breeders.


While permit holders dominated the meeting, a handful of speakers said they supported notification requirements.


Jennifer Hobgood of the Humane Society argued the rules should be expanded to require owners of Class I wildlife, venomous snakes and wolves to notify nearby residents of permits.


"These animals pose a serious risk to public safety and citizens deserve to be made aware of their proximity to such risk," she said.


Jack Brown of the Santa Fe Community College Teaching Zoo said permit holders should take the time to talk with neighbors about their animals.


"You’re going to have to be a responsible neighbor," he said. "The cat is out of the bag – they already know you have these things."


Barbara McDuffie said she lives near a Class I permit holder in Ocala and worries wildlife could harm the children at a nearby school.


"We have rights, too, for our own protection," she said.


Several speakers raised issues about a letter last week sent by Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa.


Baskin obtained a list of Class I permits holders, which is public record, and sent letters to their neighbors notifying them. "Keeping wild animals in private collections is cruel to the animals and dangerous for you," the letter said.


John Knight of Jacksonville said the letter was irresponsible and could invite people to shoot animals.


"We haven’t seen the problems that that’s going to cause yet," he said.


Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gville


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