‘Oh, My!’ Exotic pet owners needn’t disclose

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‘Oh, My!’ Exotic pet owners needn’t disclose


They need permits to keep wildlife, but don’t have to inform their neighbors.

By CRAIG PITTMAN St. Petersburg Times

September 19, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG – State wildlife commissioners agreed last week that owners of potentially dangerous wildlife do not have to inform their neighbors about what’s lurking on the other side of the privacy fence.


"There are probably pit bulls out there that are more dangerous than what some of these people are keeping," commissioner Ron Bergeron said.


More than 370 people statewide hold permits for what the state calls Class I wildlife, also known as the "Oh My" list, a name derived from a line in The Wizard of Oz: "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!"


The owners of such wildlife must get permits, submit to inspections, meet caging requirements and keep their animals on property that is 5 acres or more in an area not zoned residential.


But this summer, after hearing from an Okeechobee County rancher, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contemplated making owners take out a legal notice in the nearest newspaper disclosing what they own and sending all immediate neighbors certified letters.


Rancher Susan Williams told wildlife commissioners at their June meeting that she was horrified to learn that one of her Okeechobee County neighbors was keeping a tiger and five bears on his Crazy 8 Ranch. She worried about what might happen if the animals got loose.


The Humane Society of the United States backed the wildlife disclosure rule, too.


"We do think that in a state as prone to hurricanes as this one, folks should be notified about what’s in their community," Jennifer Hobgood of the Humane Society said Thursday. "They have the right to know."


When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992, more than 3,000 exotic animals — including boa constrictors, wallabies, iguanas and baboons — escaped private menageries and fled into the wilds of Miami-Dade County.


Hobgood pointed out that in 2003, neighbors in the Countryside Village Mobile Home Park in Town ‘n’ Country were unnerved to learn that a resident was raising 26 deadly reptiles. They found out because his pet black mamba got loose and bit him.


But the wildlife commissioners were swayed by a parade of animal owners, such as Lisa Welch of Thonotosassa, who argued that requiring disclosure of her wildlife ownership "is such an infringement of my rights."


Palm Springs cougar owner Alan Rigerman said farmers ought to be required to disclose what livestock they own because cows are just as dangerous. "Bulls kill people. Horses and cattle kill people," he said.


Gini Valbuena of Clearwater, who has owned chimpanzees for 22 years, predicted that disclosing what she owns would attract thieves and trespassers: "We’re going to have children injured, and we’re going to have people knocking on our doors saying, ‘Let me see your monkey.’ "


And longtime Gainesville reptile dealer Gene Bessette said that if the rule passed, the next step would be requiring firearm owners to notify their neighbors about what guns they possess.


"A gun doesn’t get up and walk out of its gun case," Hobgood retorted.


The commissioners, meeting in St. Petersburg, voted 6-0 to reject the proposed rule.


They also voted to postpone until February implementing a liability law that requires owners of captive wildlife to put up a $10,000 bond or buy $2 million of insurance in case anyone gets hurt by their animals.




Carole’s comments here:  http://www.topix.net/forum/source/orlando-sentinel/TK0KGTKEJLBD5PB96

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