Owners in Kansas would need to obtain licenses, insurance
Posted on Sun, Mar. 19, 2006
Senate passes bill to regulate exotic animals
By BENITA Y. WILLIAMS
The Kansas City Star
Those wanting to tighten the standards for owning exotic animals in Kansas have found allies in the state Legislature.
Last week the Kansas Senate voted unanimously for a law that would require owners of exotic animals such as lions and tigers to obtain licenses and insurance and to meet other requirements.
Kansas currently has no state laws regulating the ownership of such animals. The Senate gave priority to the measure, SB 578, and quickly moved it to the floor late Thursday. The bill passed 40-0 and now awaits House approval.
The measure was spurred by the mauling death last year of Haley Hilderbrand, 17, of Altamont, Kan., who was killed while having her senior picture taken with a Siberian tiger at a Mound Valley, Kan., animal preserve.
“Haley’s death should be a wake-up call for Kansas,” the girl’s mother, Ronda Good, had told a Senate committee meeting.
After the vote, Good and her husband, Michael Good, issued a statement thanking the Senate: “We applaud the Kansas Senate for their swift action on the bill and urge the House members to pass this legislation … without weakening it in any way.”
Opponents argued that the law would unnecessarily penalize responsible animal owners and that the required insurance is virtually impossible to find.
“By inserting this requirement into this bill, you have caused many good facilities that have otherwise safe and healthy cats to be unable to comply,” Matt Baker, a resident from Atchison, Kan., told the committee. He is affiliated with the Feline Conservation Federation.
The proposal, if approved, would apply to lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, mountain lions, bears and non-native venomous snakes. Public contact with such animals would be banned.
Owners of the animals would have to:
■ Obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture license.
■ Register the animals with local animal control and identify each one with a microchip.
■ Maintain enough insurance or a bond to pay up to $250,000 each time property is damaged or someone is injured by their animals.
The proposal also would prohibit ownership of exotic animals by anyone who has been convicted of a felony within the past 10 years. The facilities housing exotic animals would be subject to annual inspections at a fee of up to $100. Handlers would be subject to local registration fees of up to $25.
The measure also has rules related to caging, breeding, selling and slaughtering exotic animals.
Accredited zoos and wildlife parks would be exempt from the law. Circuses and researchers with the proper licensing would not be affected.
The measure was introduced last month by Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman Dwayne Umbarger, a Thayer Republican, whose district includes Haley’s hometown.
“Some say we’re trying to prohibit ownership of these animals,” Umbarger said. “That’s not the case. It’s just that if you want to have these types of animals, you have to take the responsibilities.”
In Missouri, state law requires all dangerous animals to be registered with local law enforcement, but there are no other state criteria for owning exotic cats, said a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Conservation sets rules for owning native animals such as bears, mountain lions and wolves. It prohibits public contact with those animals.
In both states, some local jurisdictions have stricter laws.
Haley’s death also stepped up debate at the Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission about similar exotic-animal restrictions the agency had been working on more than a year before Haley was mauled.
But supporters, including Haley’s family, grew frustrated in January when commissioners said a draft of the rules would not be completed until April, and a vote was pushed back to June. The rules are under review by the attorney general, and commissioners are supporting Umbarger’s bill.
“People are demanding that we deal with this issue this session,” Umbarger said.
On the Web
■ Visit www.kslegislature.org for the full text of the bill.
To reach Benita Y. Williams, call (816) 234-7714 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
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