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Exotic animal bill amounts to a taking of owners’ property

State Sen. Michael Roberson’s SB245 de facto bans all non-commercial and most commercial ownership of many charismatic exotic animals in Nevada.

This bad, unneeded bill has to be killed. It gives carte blanche to wildlife sanctuaries and private AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums)-accredited facilities to do as much “dangerous animal” transferring, movement  and replacement as they wish without any oversight, insurance or experience requirement, while discriminating against, over-regulating or banning other legal owners — who create local jobs and may be more experienced — from acquiring more of the same types of animals.

The largest urban areas in Nevada (Clark, Nye, and Washoe counties and their cities) already have local regulations that they can afford to enforce. No state regulation is needed. This bill would overburden already understaffed local animal control departments and court systems with cases that do not improve public safety, but only remove the freedom of Nevadans.

There is no public safety issue. The only person who has been killed by an exotic animal in Nevada since 1990 was a USDA facility tiger trainer in 2001. That’s a voluntarily accepted occupational hazard, not a question of public safety. The facility has since been shut down by the USDA. 

Dogs kill more humans in Nevada than exotics. In April 2012, a 1-year-old child was killed by a dog named Onion in Sen. Roberson’s district. Onion is still alive, wasting taxpayers’ money waiting for the Nevada Supreme Court to decide his fate. The city was expected to euthanize Onion, in accordance with its vicious dog ordinance. Why isn’t the existing law enforced? This dog already killed a child.

There have been a few high-profile exotic animal injuries to trainers in Nevada casinos and circuses, but they are exempt from this bill, which makes this proposal even more unreasonable. This bill exempts facilities on the Strip that welcome 40 million residents and visitors per year, but bans facilities in sparsely populated rural areas. This is as foolish as banning cows on Nevada ranches, but allowing them in resort casinos. To add insult to injury, ironically, the last four human fatalities caused by captive big cats nationwide since 2007 (none of them in Nevada) were in the type of facilities SB245 exempts.

SB245 has no uniform caging standards for “dangerous wild animals.” It exempts facilities based on arbitrary bureaucratic tax, casino contract or private club affiliation criteria. It exempts wildlife sanctuaries based on nonprofit status and the absence of commercial activity. But what does nonprofit status or commerce have to do with husbandry experience, animal welfare or public safety?

SB245 also exempts “resort hotels.” Currently there are only two “resort casinos” that would be allowed to continue their business as usual — Mandalay Bay and The Mirage.

The bill has a traveling circus exemption, which would mean local Nevada exotic animal jobs would be exported and given to out-of-state companies and workers. Rural Nevadans would be punished too, since they would have to travel to urban areas to see certain exotic animals. 

SB245 does not require the exempt entities, wildlife sanctuaries and AZA to carry any liability insurance, but SB245 mandates the nonexempt entities carry “liability insurance in an amount not less than $250,000 per occurrence, with a deductible of not more than $250, covering property damage or bodily injury or death caused by any dangerous wild animals that the person possesses.”

This means that a non-commercial, rural pet owner with one caged one-pound pet monkey would need the same prohibitively expensive insurance as a big cat, chimpanzee and bear act in a resort hotel on the Las Vegas Strip with its 40 million visitors per year. It also appears the insurance with a $250 deductible is not available. Even the Nevada Department of Wildlife has a different permit fee schedule for commercial and non-commercial wildlife owners.

SB245 has no provisions covering intentional release or animal terrorism. It automatically labels the owner or possessor liable for any related costs. Even accidental breeding in a non-exempt (non sanctuary, non AZA) facility would be a violation of this bill and result in confiscation, with the owner forced to place their animals with exempt entities, and pay any fees the exempt entities demand. This is a horrible violation of property rights. (Animals of any species are considered property under the U.S. Constitution.) It doesn’t give the owners enough time for due process. It gives the exempt entities access to free valuable animals and a right to demand money for their upkeep from the owners who didn’t want to give up their animals in the first place. Many animals would be killed if no new home is found.

This bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation I have ever seen. It is un-American and needs to be killed. Anybody supporting it will have the blood of the euthanized innocent animals on their hands.

Efforts to meet with Sen. Roberson have been ignored by him so far.

The writer is president of REXANO, Responsible Exotic Animal Ownership, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt nonprofit organization.

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