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Detailed Discussion of Oklahoma Great Ape Laws



Rebecca F. Wisch


Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
2012
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law

Printable Version

I. Introduction

Oklahoma does not have a law specifically addressing great apes; instead, it is unlawful for an individual to possess a great ape in the state of Oklahoma under the state’s endangered species law. The law does give the Director of Wildlife Conversation discretion to allow possession with written permission, but no event may the ban conflict with federal law. This would disallow possession of great apes as pets in Oklahoma because such use would conflict with federal law.

Great apes are generally protected from intentional abuse and neglect under the state’s anti-cruelty law. Unlike many other states, the law does not exempt scientific research facilities from its provisions.

II. How Different Uses of Great Apes are Affected by Law

A. Private Possession of Great Apes

Two sections prohibit the possession of federally-listed endangered or threatened species. Together, these prohibit an individual from lawfully possessing a great ape in Oklahoma. A section in the Oklahoma Wildlife Conversation Code explicitly prohibits a person from possessing an endangered or threatened species or parts thereof. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 7-502(2). The Code includes federally-listed species under the definition for “endangered”:

“Endangered” refers to any wildlife species or subspecies in the wild or in captivity whose prospects of survival and reproduction are in immediate jeopardy and includes those species listed as endangered by the federal government, as well as any species or subspecies identified as threatened by Oklahoma statute or Commission resolution.

29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-109. “Threatened” is likewise defined to include federally-listed species. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-135.

Because all great apes (except for threatened captive-born chimpanzees) are listed on the federal Endangered Species List, the ban on possession of endangered species in Oklahoma extends to great apes.

In addition, the state endangered species law also prohibits the possession of any endangered or threatened species “without specific written permission of the Director. In no event, however, may that permission conflict with federal law.” 29 Okl. St. Ann. 5-412. There are no exceptions for ownership of an endangered or threatened species as a pet under federal law. Such a permit would then conflict with federal law.

B. Possession by Roadside and Traditional Zoos (Class C USDA Licensees)

Oklahoma does not have a specific law that addresses possession of great apes by roadside or traditional zoos.  However, the endangered species law would also appear to ban possession in this instance. A section in the Oklahoma code on wildlife conservation explicitly prohibits a person from possessing an endangered or threatened species or parts thereof. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 7-502. The Code includes federally-listed species under the definition for “endangered”:

“Endangered” refers to any wildlife species or subspecies in the wild or in captivity whose prospects of survival and reproduction are in immediate jeopardy and includes those species listed as endangered by the federal government, as well as any species or subspecies identified as threatened by Oklahoma statute or Commission resolution.

29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-109. “Threatened” is likewise defined to include federally-listed species. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-135.

Because all great apes (except for threatened captive-born chimpanzees) are listed on the federal Endangered Species List, the ban on possession of endangered species in Oklahoma extends to great apes.

In addition, the state endangered species law also prohibits the possession of any endangered or threatened species “without specific written permission of the Director. In no event, however, may that permission conflict with federal law.” 29 Okl. St. Ann. 5-412. Since many accredited zoos and some roadside zoos hold federal licenses (USDA Class C, typically), such a use would not conflict with federal law.

C. Commercial Exhibitors

Oklahoma does not have a specific law that addresses possession of great apes by commercial exhibitors.  However, the endangered species law would also appear to ban possession in this instance. A section in the Oklahoma code on wildlife conservation explicitly prohibits a person from possessing an endangered or threatened species or parts thereof. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 7-502. The Code includes federally-listed species under the definition for “endangered”:

“Endangered” refers to any wildlife species or subspecies in the wild or in captivity whose prospects of survival and reproduction are in immediate jeopardy and includes those species listed as endangered by the federal government, as well as any species or subspecies identified as threatened by Oklahoma statute or Commission resolution.

29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-109. “Threatened” is likewise defined to include federally-listed species. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-135.

Because all great apes (except for threatened captive-born chimpanzees) are listed on the federal Endangered Species List, the ban on possession of endangered species in Oklahoma extends to great apes.

In addition, the state endangered species law also prohibits the possession of any endangered or threatened species “without specific written permission of the Director. In no event, however, may that permission conflict with federal law.” 29 Okl. St. Ann. 5-412. Since many commercial exhibitors hold federal licenses (USDA Class C), such a use would not conflict with federal law.

D. Sanctuaries

Oklahoma does not have a specific law that addresses possession of great apes by sanctuaries.  The endangered species law may ban possession in this instance. A section in the Oklahoma code on wildlife conservation explicitly prohibits a person from possessing an endangered or threatened species or parts thereof. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 7-502. The Code includes federally-listed species under the definition for “endangered”:

“Endangered” refers to any wildlife species or subspecies in the wild or in captivity whose prospects of survival and reproduction are in immediate jeopardy and includes those species listed as endangered by the federal government, as well as any species or subspecies identified as threatened by Oklahoma statute or Commission resolution.

29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-109. “Threatened” is likewise defined to include federally-listed species. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-135.

Because all great apes (except for threatened captive-born chimpanzees) are listed on the federal Endangered Species List, the ban on possession of endangered species in Oklahoma extends to great apes.

In addition, the state endangered species law also prohibits the possession of any endangered or threatened species “without specific written permission of the Director. In no event, however, may that permission conflict with federal law.” 29 Okl. St. Ann. 5-412. It is unclear whether permission would be granted by the Director for an ape sanctuary.

It is possible that the state’s administrative rules on wildlife rehabilitation may apply to exotic endangered species. Okla. Admin. Code 800:25-38-1, et. seq. The section does not limit wildlife rehabilitation to native species in a definition section or any of its other provisions. In fact, one section contemplates the rehabilitation of endangered species:

Any person licensed for the rehabilitation of wildlife shall immediately contact the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife - Law Division or their local Game Warden when they receive any species of wildlife that is currently on the Endangered or Threatened Species List.

Okla. Admin. Code 800:25-38-4. Further, a section that mandates release of all rehabilitated wildlife contains an exception for endangered species:

All animals possessed by persons licensed to rehabilitate wildlife must be released back into the wild immediately upon the animals recovery from injuries or when the animal has reached the appropriate age for release .. . No wildlife received under this section may be kept as a pet. Rare exceptions may be made only for Threatened, Endangered or Species of Concern with written approval from the Director for an approved captive breeding program.

Okla. Admin. Code 800:25-38-9 [emphasis within]. It appears that even if the regulations were interpreted broadly to include ape sanctuaries, permission must first be obtained from the Director of Wildlife Conservation.

E. Scientific Testing and Research Facilities

There are no state laws in Oklahoma that specifically address great apes used in scientific testing and research facilities. While the state endangered species law prohibits possession of endangered or threatened species, “this permission may [not] conflict with federal law.” 29 Okl. St. Ann. 5-412. Any research facility using apes would be licensed in accordance with federal law. Notably, the state anti-cruelty law does not contain an exemption for scientific research or testing. 21 Okl. St. Ann. 1692.9.

Great apes are not normally used in chemical testing, but in a few states they are still part of scientific research.  In those states, activity related to scientific research would be exempt from punishment under state anti-cruelty laws.

III. State Laws Affecting Great Apes in Oklahoma

Oklahoma addresses the use and possession of great apes through two primary avenues in its laws. First, the wildlife code and endangered species law prohibit the possession of endangered and threatened species, which includes all great apes. Second, great apes are protected from intentional cruelty and neglect under the state’s anti-cruelty provision. Notably, there is no state exception under the cruelty law for scientific research that uses animals.

A provision in the wildlife code dealing with the importation of wildlife is mentioned because it exempts primates from import permit requirements. However, this law would only impact those individuals already given permission by the Director of Wildlife Conservation to possess an ape or those already licensed under federal law.

A. Nongame and Endangered Species Act

As a federally-recognized endangered species, great apes in Oklahoma are entitled to protections under both the federal Endangered Species Act and the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Code.  Under the state statute, it is unlawful to possess, hunt, chase, harass, attempt to trap, capture, shoot at, injure, or kill any endangered or threatened species. 29 Okl. St. Ann. 5-412

The Wildlife Conservation Code includes federally-listed species under the definition for “endangered”:

“Endangered” refers to any wildlife species or subspecies in the wild or in captivity whose prospects of survival and reproduction are in immediate jeopardy and includes those species listed as endangered by the federal government, as well as any species or subspecies identified as threatened by Oklahoma statute or Commission resolution.

29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-109. “Threatened” is likewise defined to include federally-listed species. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 2-135.

Because great apes are listed on the federal Endangered Species List as endangered, the ban on ownership of endangered species in Oklahoma extends to great apes. The possession of any endangered or threatened species is not allowed “without specific written permission of the Director. In no event, however, may that permission conflict with federal law.” 29 Okl. St. Ann. 5-412.

Oklahoma’s ban on possession of endangered species is buttressed by another section of the Wildlife Conservation Code. While this law appears targeted more at the trade in illegally taken wildlife parts, it explicitly prohibits a person from possessing an endangered or threatened species or parts thereof. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 7-502(2). Violation of the law results in a fine of not less than one hundred dollars ($100.00) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500.00) or by imprisonment in the county jail not to exceed thirty days, or by both. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 7-502(G).

B. Importation, Introduction, and Transplantation of Wildlife Law

Oklahoma’s wildlife conservation code contains a section mandating that the wildlife conservation commission include a board dedicated to preserving, protecting, and managing wildlife in the state. 29 Okl. St. Ann. § 3-103.  This section explicitly states that the commission shall promulgate rules regarding the sale of all regular and special licenses dealing with wildlife in the state. This authority has resulted in a number of state rules concerning the importation process for wildlife.

Typically, individuals are permitted to import, breed, or hunt wildlife certain wildlife species as long as they obtain the specified permit first.  However, the wildlife conservation commission has explicitly exempted primates from import and export permits, as well as commercial and noncommercial breeders licenses. Okla. Admin. Code 800:25-25-3. The full impact of this law is unclear since the possession of apes is banned under the state’s endangered species law.

C. Cruelty to Animals

Great apes are not specifically mentioned in any of Oklahoma’s anti-cruelty laws.  However, Oklahoma’s anti-cruelty statute, the Animal Facilities Protection Act, defines “animal” as “any mammal, bird, fish, reptile or invertebrate, including wild and domesticated species, other than a human being.” 21 Okl. St. Ann. 1680.1.  Because great apes are mammals and are not explicitly exempted from any of the provisions of the Act, the Act applies to great apes.

Under Oklahoma’s anti-cruelty statute, it is unlawful to torture, kill, cruelly beat, or maim any animal, including great apes. 21 Okl. St. Ann. 1685.  Additional provisions prohibit poisoning and abandoning any animal. There is no exemption for scientific research or testing. 21 Okl. St. Ann. 1692.9.

IV. Conclusion

There is no overall law that regulates or otherwise controls the possession of great apes in Oklahoma. Rather, all great apes in the state are protected as endangered or threatened species and may not be possessed unless written permission is granted by the state Director of Wildlife Conservation. Since this permission may not conflict with federal law, private possession of a great ape as a pet would be banned.  While cruelty laws protect great apes and other animals from intentional abuse and neglect, no other standards of care for great apes exist in the state.

 

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