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Report finds gap in Ind. law governing

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Posted by: EricWI at Mon Dec 19 19:04:28 2011  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by EricWI ]  

Report finds gap in Ind. law governing exotic pets
Indiana residents who want to keep exotic animals such as wolves, bears and crocodiles as pets must have their facilities inspected and obtain a permit under state law. But the state veterinarian isn't required to release the animals' veterinary records to the public, and primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees aren't regulated by the state at all.

The gaps in how the state handles exotic pets came to light when The Star Press ( ) requested records from the Board of Animal Health that include information on the owner, his or her address, the species of animal, its origin and its destination.

Lawmakers made the veterinary records confidential under state law in 2008, much as people's medical records are protected under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

The records can be released to law enforcement as part of a criminal investigation; for statistical and scientific research, if the identity of the animal and its owner are protected; as part of an investigation by the animal health board, by court order, or to the protect the health and welfare of animals or the public.

"The allowance for the state veterinarian to make those exceptions was included in the law to provide flexibility for the agency in carrying out investigations that affect the health of animals," Denise Derrer, spokeswoman for the animal health board, told The Star Press in refusing to release the records.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Department of Agriculture maintain records on the possession, breeding and exhibiting of wild and exotic animals.

The USDA enforces animal welfare regulations covering exotic animals that are bred for commercial sale, exhibited to the public or used for biomedical research. But those don't cover private ownership, said USDA spokesman Dave Sacks. "Those are state issues. If a state allows you to own tigers and bears and you have two of each in your backyard, if all you do is own and care for them, USDA has nothing to say about that."

The DNR regulates pet wolves, bears, wild cats, venomous reptiles and crocodiles at least five feet long. It requires conservation officers to inspect wild pet facilities to ensure that primary enclosures and perimeter fences meet requirements. Owners who pass inspection receive a permit to keep the animals and undergo annual inspections to ensure compliance, said Linnea Petercheff, a specialist in the DNR's fish and wildlife division.

But the Humane Society of the United States says Indiana's failure to regulate primates may be putting people at risk, noting the 2009 case of a Connecticut woman who was left blinded and disfigured after being attacked by a friend's pet chimpanzee.

"Primates can be really dangerous animals to have as pets," said Anne Sterling, the Humane Society's state director.

More than 40 people have been killed by captive big cats, bears, non-human primates and snakes in the United States since 1990, and many more have been injured, according to the society.

A recent case in which police had to kill four dozen wild animals released by a Zanesville, Ohio, man who killed himself has prompted Ohio to consider a ban on ownership of exotic animals.

Indiana has had cases of escapes, but none to that degree. Pet alligators have been spotted in lakes and roaming a street in Muncie. Tigers have been seized by federal agents from a tattoo artist and shot after escaping from a menagerie.

In other cases, children have been bitten by monkeys and boa constrictors in homes. And a pet cougar that escaped from a car during a traffic accident was shot and killed by police after it lunged at an emergency worker.

Edwin Korte, a retired Air National Guardsman and tavern owner, has kept pet mountain lions for years on his property near Decatur.

"They're the most gentle animal ever," Korte said. "Mine is so tame I have to go pet her every day. Every morning, she calls me and wants me to come pet her. She's just an overgrown house cat."

He said the Ohio incident is an example of what happens "when a guy loses his senses."

"If I lose my mind and open my cage, there's nothing you or anyone else in the world can do about it.",0,1427091.story


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