Exotic pet rules get a lot tougher in VA

Posted at 5:09 PM, Feb 28, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-28 23:40:58-05

 RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- Should Virginia have stricter laws regarding the ownership of dangerous and exotic animals?

Those who have ever had hopes of owning an exotic pet--perhaps a chimpanzee or a komodo dragon—could soon have the door shut on those dreams. The Commonwealth is moving to take4 a tougher stance, and only allowing experts to handle such animals.

A new report addressing that subject is now finished and has been sent to Governor McDonnell.

It was put together by a panel formed in the wake of an incident that took place two years ago in Ohio. That is where a man who owned a wild animal park set loose dozens of animals, including tigers, before killing himself.

In Virginia, there is already a restricted animal list and lions and tigers have long been on it. The group recommends adding elephants, baboons and chimpanzees to a list of animals that are restricted in the Commonwealth.

Owners have to prove they have general liability insurance, a written escape and disaster plan, and an inventory of animals, along with training for exhibitors.  That list is now under review by the governor and has grown to include more animals.

“Species not covered by those laws, such as great apes, chimps, orangutan, other potentially dangerous animals that pose a threat, are covered in the new recommendations," said Jim Andelin, the owner of the Richmond Metro Zoo.

“After the Ohio incident, the governor asked a group to look into Virginia’s regulations concerning wild animals," said Andelin.

Some also wanted to outlaw venomous and constrictor snakes as pets but collectors, dealers and fans of those species argued against additional restrictions and for now have gotten their way.

“There's a difference of a tiger running loose and a python on the loose, solely on how the animals respond,” said Andelin.   “And to be honest, I think we ran out of time to make a change concerning snakes."

The panel also considered a dangerous pet registry, focused mainly on venomous snakes for first responders so they would have that information handy.  But that, of course, costs money and funding right now is a bad word when it comes budgeting.

Click here to check out the complete report [PDF].