Exotic animal rules clear House hurdle
By Chris Green
Harris News Service
TOPEKA – Contact between dangerous exotic animals and the public would be prohibited under a bill that advanced Wednesday in the House.
The bill before the chamber would regulate the ownership of six breeds of large cats, including lions or tigers, bears and non-native, venomous snakes.
It requires owners to be federally licensed and meet minimum care and safety requirements.
House members voted 65-41 Wednesday to remove a provision added to the bill last week that allowed the public to have contact with some breeds of young dangerous animals weighing less than 15 pounds.
Smaller animals still pose a threat for such things as disease even if they couldn’t hurt people, some lawmakers said.
Rep. Clark Shultz, R-Lindsborg, who offered the amendment to reinstate the ban on public contact, said it was important for people to understand the dangers posed by the creatures.
"I think we want to send the right message to our schools, school groups across the state, that these are dangerous animals," Shultz said.
Rep. Richard Kelsey, R-Goddard, defended allowing people to touch small exotic animals, saying a small private zoo in his district, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, had never had problems with the practice.
A final vote on the restrictions, which passed the Senate in a similar form earlier this month, could happen today.
The House’s version includes a requirement that the state’s wildlife and parks department implement programs training local animal control on how to handle dangerous animals.
The changes approved by both legislative chambers essentially prevent private citizens from running unlicensed "backyard zoos" or keeping dangerous creatures as pets, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
The bill wouldn’t prohibit accredited zoos, registered wildlife sanctuaries and traveling circuses from operating.
"It puts Kansas squarely with the rest of the country in barring wild animals as pets," said Beth Preiss, director of the national humane society’s campaign to ban exotic pets.
The bill would also bar anyone other than an owner, trained handler or veterinarian from having contact with the dangerous creatures. Owners would also be barred from bringing the animals on public property or to retail or commercial settings.
Relatives and friends of a 17-year-old Labette County girl killed by a tiger last year have fought for the restrictions.
Haley Hilderbrand of Altamont was mauled last year while posing with an adult Siberian tiger for a senior portrait at a private animal park. Two of her parents, Mike and Ronda Good, have testified that their daughter would still be alive if stronger restrictions had been in effect.
Hilderbrand initially was scheduled to pose with cubs and had contact with young exotic animals earlier, lawmakers said.
Several legislators said they were swayed by the arguments that such interactions sent a message to Hilderbrand that big cats weren’t so dangerous.
"You notice when you go to the zoo, you do not come into contact with a lion or a tiger," Rep. Geraldine Flaharty, D-Wichita, said.
03/30/2006; 02:35:14 AM
Highlights from the Kansas Legislature
Highlights of Wednesday’s activities at the Kansas Legislature:
The House gave first-round approval to a bill strengthening regulation over owners of bears, big cats and other exotic animals. The measure is a response to a teenager’s death last year at a southeast Kansas wildlife sanctuary.
Clock is ticking:
Wednesday was the 76th day of the session, out of 90 scheduled.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
Sign our petition here:
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