MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Republican bill that would outlaw possession of dangerous exotic animals grew more complicated Tuesday after its authors said they plan to soften it to protect more businesses.
The bill looked straightforward enough when Sen. Van Wanggaard and Rep. Samantha Kerkman introduced it in September: It would prohibit people from possessing, breeding and selling a long list of animals, including lions, tigers, polar bears, apes and crocodilians, and would have barred people from allowing the public to come in contact with such animals. Vets, zoos accredited through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, circuses and wildlife sanctuaries would be exempt.
Wanggaard and Kerkman told the Assembly consumer protection committee on Tuesday that they’re preparing an amendment that would carve out exemptions for facilities accredited by the Zoological Association of America and anyone with a U.S. Department of Agriculture license to possess, import, sell or breed a dangerous exotic animal. The amendment also would allow the public to come into direct contact with a dangerous exotic animal.
Wanggaard told the committee the amendment will allow smaller zoos that lack AZA accreditation but have ZAA accreditation to continue to exist. He said the direct contact allowance was written largely for the Timbavati Wildlife Park, a Wisconsin Dells-area attraction that features exotic animals including tigers, giraffes and primates, and that it would allow for up-close educational encounters.
Members of the Humane Society of the United States immediately took issue with the amendment. Debbie Leahy, manager of the group’s captive wildlife protection division, told the committee that the ZAA accredits roadside zoos that can’t meet the AZA’s standards. An exemption for USDA license holders would make the bill ineffective since pet owners can easily acquire such a license, she said.
Melissa Tedrowe, the Humane Society’s Wisconsin director, warned that contact with such animals can be dangerous. Besides injuring people, they also can spread diseases such as rabies, she said.
ZAA Executive Director Alan Smith fought back, telling the committee that the association has facilities managed by professionals who would be hurt if the bill passes unchanged. Wildwood Wildlife Park, a ZAA-accredited facility in Minocqua, likely would close, he said. No one has come with any evidence showing the association’s standards are weak, he said.
Mark Schoebel, who runs Timbavti, said the original bill would hurt his business.
“I don’t think it’s right that people who have worked their entire life should be thrown under the bus,” he said after the hearing.
Two Democrats on the committee, Reps. Sondy Pope and Christine Sinicki, questioned ZAA’s standards as well as allowing public contact. They said they couldn’t support the bill if it’s amended.
“We came into this hearing thinking it was a noncontroversial bill,” Sinicki said. “It has turned extremely controversial.”
Their support is far from necessary, though, since Republicans control the committee. Rep. Scott Krug, the committee’s chairman, didn’t immediately return a telephone message following the hearing inquiring about whether he might schedule a vote on the bill.
The Senate judiciary committee held a public hearing on the proposal in October. Wanggaard chairs that committee. His aide, Scott Kelly, said that panel will likely vote on the bill within the next two weeks.
Wanggaard has said the measure was inspired largely by the search for a lion-like creature that was reportedly wandering the streets of Milwaukee last summer. Animal control officers believe the animal was likely a released or escaped lion, though no one knows for sure, as the beast was never captured. Searches for escaped exotics put police and other authorities in danger and drain municipal resources, the senator said in a memo seeking co-sponsors.
Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.