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Posted by Raymond Hoser on January 06, 2002 at 17:26:17:
In Reply to: Future Texan needs herp law summary posted by Maxx MacLeod on January 06, 2002 at 04:34:47:
The following is from Saltsberg's list. http://www.herpdigest.org
12) Texas Demands Controls Over Wild Animals in Private Hands
NYTimes (NY) 10 December 01 (Ross E. Milloy)
Austin, Texas: Robert Riess walks past a flock of sheep, around a tropical
plant hothouse and through the chicken coops on his 17- acre homestead just
north of Austin. He stops at a chain-link pen holding his most prized
possession, a seven- foot, 37-year-old alligator named Henry.
"Just look at that big dangerous animal, fire coming out of his mouth while
he eats people and terrorizes the community," said Mr. Riess, 70, joking.
"I've had this fellow since he was just a baby, no more than a foot long,
and now I will probably have to shoot him."
A new Texas law is requiring county governments to either regulate or
prohibit the ownership of "dangerous wild animals," including lions, tigers,
bears - and alligators. While most Texas cities have ordinances controlling
or banning the possession of wild animals, many counties have not, an
oversight that the State Legislature tried to rectify with the new law.
But in a state that has been transformed from predominantly rural to
predominantly urban in the last 50 years, the law is creating problems for
animal rescue centers and frustration among people who moved from cities
into unincorporated areas of counties to avoid such rules.
"I'm a native Texan, and native Texans don't like a lot of interference from
the city government, the county government or anyone else," Mr. Riess said.
Because most counties have neither the expertise nor the money to regulate
the conditions in which wild animals are kept, some - like Travis County,
where Mr. Riess lives - are seeking to simply ban them. Once animals like
Henry become illegal, their owners will be forced to move or euthanize them,
or find them a home at zoos or rescue centers. Experts say that is likely to
overwhelm a network of animal sanctuaries across the state.
With more than 5,000 tigers estimated to be in private hands in Texas,
animal protection advocates are scrambling to deal with potentially
thousands of animals that will become illegal as counties adopt regulations
under the new state law.
"We're already way beyond our capacity, and so is everybody else in the
country," said Cindy Carroccio, co-director of the Austin Zoo, a sanctuary
that cares for hundreds of abandoned or abused animals in southern Travis
County. "There is just no place for these animals to go. It's just a
Ms. Carroccio, who, like many Texas sanctuary operators, supported the new
legislation when it was proposed, is now upset at the way it is being
enforced - by banning refuges like hers rather than regulating them. But
county officials say trying to enforce standards for the animals' care is
"This has turned out to be an enormous problem for county governments across
the state," said Rex Hall, a lawyer for the Texas Association of Counties.
But Texas is not alone. According to advocates for wild animals, the state
is only one example of a growing national problem.
Across the nation, where more than 60,000 wild tigers, for example, are
thought to be privately held, eight states have imposed statewide bans on
the ownership of wild animals; three states have no rules at all; and the
rest have only minimal forms of control, said Sumner Matthes, wildlife
coordinator for the American Sanctuary and Shelter Association in Sarasota,
"People have no idea of the magnitude of the animal control issue," Mr.
Matthes said. "No one knows how many wild animals are out there in private
hands, or where they are."
Mr. Matthes said federal legislation on wild animal controls failed last
year because hunting groups opposed it, saying that the legislation was
restrictive because it limited opportunities for popular exotic game hunts
of certain species.
Sanctuary operators in Texas who pressed for the new legislation believed
that counties would regulate the possession of wild animals rather than ban
them, Mr. Matthes said. "It's a good law, but if the counties can't afford
to enforce it through regulation," he said, "it's useless."
In San Antonio, where the Wild Animal Orphanage has added 40 lions and
tigers in just the last five weeks to the 600 wild animals already under
care at the 112-acre sanctuary, Carol Asvestas, the executive director, says
she supports the new state law, but only as a means to an end.
"If the counties want to prohibit these animals, that's fine, but somebody
has got to come up with funding to pay for their care," she said.
"Otherwise, we'll be euthanizing thousands." But even that, Ms. Asvestas
said, might be a positive thing.
"The cycle has to end somewhere," she said. "We have all of these breeders
out there making money by selling wild animals to people who really don't
recognize the danger in possessing them."
Just why anyone would want to own a dangerous animal remains a mystery to
some, but to others the allure is irresistible, and the price is right, Ms.
"You can buy a tiger for $200, and when they're small, they're cute,
adorable," she said. "But when they grow to 500 pounds and people realize
they've gotten in way over their heads, by then it's too late."
For Mr. Riess, a retired research zoologist, the reason is more complex,
because even he would agree that Henry is hardly adorable.
"We don't really consider him a pet," he said. "He's just an animal we have
around for the pleasure of taking care of him and looking at him."
"Alligators and crocodiles have descended almost unchanged from the
dinosaurs," he said. "It's like having our own dinosaur in the family."