HARRISBURG - The Humane Society of the United States is urging the state Senate to quickly pass a bill that would ban the private possession of dangerous exotic animals -- including lions, tigers, bears, wolves, coyotes, bobcats, leopards, cougars, cheetahs, jaguars and primates.House Bill 1398, sponsored by Rep. Edward Staback, D-Lackawanna/Wayne, is in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Under current Pennsylvania law, it is legal to keep dangerous wild animals as pets provided the person purchases a permit from the Pennsylvania Game Commission to keep that animal. There is no requirement that the permit holder notify neighbors, local law enforcement or schools that the animal is being kept. There is very little regulatory oversight, according to the Humane Society.
The Humane Society recently released the results of an undercover investigation into GW Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Okla., which revealed unwarranted breeding, tiger deaths and dangerous incidents involving paying customers and their children. The investigator witnessed or heard reports about numerous dangerous public interactions at the roadside zoo - some with a nearly full-grown tiger - including at least six cases where visitors were bitten or scratched.
The facility regularly takes tigers across state lines to shopping malls and other venues for photo opportunities with the public, according to the investigation. In 2008, GW Exotics shipped two 11-week-old tiger cubs to the Genesis Wildlife Center in NayAug Park in Scranton - a year before Genesis closed down.
"The tigers from GW Exotics may now be living in a Pennsylvania backyard," said Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania state director for the Humane Society. "We should not wait until another tragedy occurs before adopting strict standards in the law. Pennsylvania's lawmakers should act swiftly to pass this bill to protect residents and prevent animals from suffering in backyards and basements."
In 2009 Kelly Ann Waltz was attacked and killed by her pet bear in Ross Township, Monroe County. Waltz also held a permit allowing her to keep a Bengal tiger and an African lion. Waltz was cleaning the bear's 15-foot by 15-foot steel and concrete enclosure when she was attacked. A neighbor shot the bear after the attack.
Ohio lawmakers this week are considering legislation banning private citizens from acquiring dangerous wild animals as pets.
The Pennsylvania bill does apply to reptiles, amphibians, birds, deer, guinea pigs, ferrets, alpacas and other animals. To see the most recent version of the bill visit http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billinfo/billinfo.cfm?syear=2011&sind=0&body=H&type=B&BN=1398.