While the state of Tennessee does not prohibit the possession of great apes, the law does contain specific requirements for possessors. Under Tennessee’s exotic animal law, great apes are considered Class I wildlife, meaning that permitees must obtain a permit and meet housing requirements for the animals (T. C. A. §§ 70-4-401 et seq.). Tennessee also indirectly regulates the possession of great apes by reference to the federal endangered species list. In addition, the state declares the unlawful commercial use of wildlife a Class A misdemeanor, or a Class E felony if the animal is valued at $500 or more (T. C. A. § 70-4-201).
Like other states, Tennessee does not define great apes as “endangered,” either under its own endangered species law (T. C. A. §§ 70-8-101 – 112) or accompanying regulations (TN ADC 1660-01-17-.01). Instead, it covers great apes by reference to federal law. Tennessee prohibits the taking, possession, transport, export, process, selling, or shipping of such species.
Great apes are also covered under the state’s anti-cruelty law (T. C. A. §§ 39-14-201 – 215). However, the law contains several exempt categories, including accepted veterinary practices, medical treatment by the owner or with consent of the owner, or bona fide experimentation for scientific research.
II. How Different Uses of Great Apes are Affected by Law
Tennessee law does not prohibit possession of great apes but does require possessors to obtain a permit and adhere to specific caging and care requirements. Different activities are addressed by various state laws and regulations. The law regulates the possession of great apes depending on whether a person possesses an ape privately (e.g., as a “pet”), at a zoo, as a sanctuary, or for scientific research purposes. This section examines the laws by those uses.
A. Private Possession of Great Apes
While Tennessee does not prohibit the private possession of great apes, state law contains extensive requirements for the possession of exotic animals (T. C. A. §§ 70-4-401 – 417). Under Tennessee’s exotic animal law, great apes are considered Class I wildlife, for which a permit is required prior to possession (T. C. A. § 70-4-404). The law also provides standards for the caging and care of Class I wildlife. For more, see section III(A)(3) below.
Tennessee also has laws and regulations pertaining to the commercial use of protected wildlife. Under section 70-4-201, it is unlawful for any person, firm or corporation, any restaurant, club, or hotel in the state to barter, sell, transfer or offer for sale, or to purchase, or offer to purchase, any wildlife except with a valid hunting or fishing license. Violation of this section is a Class A misdemeanor, unless the animal is valued at $500 or more, which then makes it a Class E felony. In addition, state regulation requires a permit for the importation of live wildlife (TN ADC 1660-01-15-.01). The regulations also provide that wildlife obtained through interstate commerce must be in accordance with federal laws and be obtained from a dealer licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act of 1970.
B. Possession by Accredited Zoos
Tennessee’s exotic animal law requires all possessors of Class I wildlife to obtain a permit (T. C. A. § 70-4-401). State regulations provide that zoos accredited by the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums are exempt from the fees for necessary permits after the completion of an application and providing requested information (TN ADC 1660-01-18-.05). Animals held by zoos may not be sold or transferred to the general public in Tennessee.
While state law or regulation does not use the term sanctuary, it appears that possession here is governed by the state’s exotic animal law. In order to possess Class I wildlife, a person must obtain a permit from the department (T. C. A. § 70-4-404). The law also provides standards for the caging and care of Class I wildlife. For more, see section III(A)(3) below.
D. Scientific Testing and Research Facilities
The possession of great apes by scientific testing and research facilities is controlled by the state’s exotic animal law. In order to possess Class I wildlife, a person must obtain a permit from the department (T. C. A. § 70-4-404). The law also provides standards for the caging and care of Class I wildlife. For more, see section III(A)(3) below.
Bona fide scientific testing and research is exempt from Tennessee’s anti-cruelty law provisions (T. C. A. § 39-14-202). While great apes are not normally used in chemical testing, in a few states they are still part of scientific research that would be exempt under state anti-cruelty laws.
III. State Laws Affecting Great Apes in Tennessee
Tennessee addresses the use and possession of great apes through several avenues in its laws. The state’s exotic animal law requires possessors of great apes and other Class I wildlife to obtain a permit and follow certain caging and care requirements. Also, while Tennessee does not specifically list great apes under state law as an endangered species, there is incorporation by reference to federal law. Finally, great apes are protected from intentional and unreasonable cruelty under the state’s anti-cruelty provision.
A. Importation, Introduction, and Transplantation of Wildlife Law (T. C. A. §§ 70-4-401 – 417)
Tennessee’s exotic animal law addresses the possession, transportation, commercial use, propagation, and transfer of exotic wildlife.
1. Which Great Apes are Covered?
The law has different standards depending on its classification of the exotic animal. Great apes are defined as Class I wildlife, which includes all species inherently dangerous to humans (T. C. A. § 70-4-403). A permit is required for possession of Class I wildlife (T. C. A. § 70-4-404).
2. What is Prohibited?
Under Tennessee’s exotic animal law, no person shall possess Class I wildlife without having documentary evidence showing the name and address of the supplier of such wildlife and the date of acquisition of the animal (T. C. A. § 70-4-401). In order to obtain a permit to possess Class I wildlife, a person must be at least 21 years old, have at least 2 years of experience handling such animals (or take an approved written exam), have a full-time resident caretaker, and must have a plan for the quick and safe recapture of the wildlife, among other provisions (T. C. A. § 70-4-404). The annual permits and fees for personal possession of Class I wildlife are $150/animal or $1,000/facility. Zoos, nature centers, rehabilitation centers, and educational exhibits certified as nonprofit may obtain a permit at no charge.
Tennessee’s exotic animal law also provides requirements for the transfer of ownership of Class I wildlife (T. C. A. § 70-4-407). The prospective owner must provide the seller with proper documentation of an approved holding facility for the species, including a copy of a current permit or a letter from the Tennessee wildlife resources agency approving the facility. Permitees must notify the agency of the transfer of Class I wildlife within five days of the transfer.
Finally, the accompanying regulations provide further requirements related to the possession of live wildlife. Under section 1660-01-18-.01, the possession of any state or federally threatened or endangered species is permitted only when the species has been legally obtained in the state or country of origin. In addition, permanent exhibitors must have a valid commercial propagators permit in order to engage in the commercial trade of captive wildlife (TN ADC 1660-01-18-.02).
3. Standards for Keeping Exotic Wildlife under the Law
Section 70-4-405 provides standards for the housing of exotic wildlife. No person is to maintain wildlife in captivity in unsanitary or unsafe condition or in a manner that results in the maltreatment or neglect of the wildlife. The law requires that cages be sufficiently strong to prevent escape and protect the animal from injury. The animal’s enclosure must also meet the cage specifications for that species. The law specifically provides that chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan cages are to be constructed of steel bars, two inch galvanized pipe, reinforced masonry block or their strength equivalent.
The accompanying regulations contain additional permanent and mobile facility rules for Class I wildlife. Exhibits of Class I animals must have exclusionary barriers and trained uniformed guards or caretakers present to deter unauthorized public access to the animals, to prevent escape of animals, and to prevent direct physical contact between the animal and the public (TN ADC 1660-01-18-.04). In the absence of guards, deterrent fencing of at least eight feet in height may be used. Animals kept in mobile facilities are not to be allowed out of a caged area at any time.
Any person possessing Class I wildlife is required at all reasonable times to allow the director or an employee of the agency to inspect all animals, facilities, and records to ensure compliance with the permit (T. C. A. § 70-4-409).
Any person who keeps Class I wildlife is liable for any costs incurred by any person, city, county or state agency resulting from the escape from captivity of the animal or animals (T. C. A. § 70-4-406).
B. Endangered Species Law (T. C. A. §§ 70-8-101 – 112; TN ADC 1660-01-17-.01)
As listed species on the federal list of endangered and threatened species, most great apes are protected under Tennessee’s Endangered Species Act. This act prohibits the taking, possession, transport, export, process, selling, or shipping of such species. The accompanying regulations also prohibit the commercial use of state or federally endangered species.
1. Which Great Apes are Covered?
All great apes are covered by the statute’s reference to the federal Endangered Species list. The law specifically defines endangered species to include “any species or subspecies of fish or wildlife appearing on the United States’ List of Endangered Native Fish and Wildlife . . . as well as any species or subspecies of fish and wildlife appearing on the United States’ List of Endangered Foreign Fish and Wildlife.”
2. What is Prohibited?
Under section 70-8-104, it is unlawful for a person to take, attempt to take, possess, transport, export, process, sell or offer for sale or ship nongame wildlife. It is also unlawful for a common or contract carrier to knowingly transport or receive for shipment nongame wildlife. The accompanying regulations also prohibit the commercial use of any state or federally endangered species, unless the species is taken under a specific exception from the statute (TN ADC 1660-01-17-.01). The law does allow the director to permit the taking, possession, transportation, exportation, or shipment of endangered or threatened species if for scientific, zoological, or educational purposes, for the propagation of the species in captivity, or other species purposes (T. C. A. § 70-8-106). Also, upon good cause and where necessary to alleviate damage to property or to protect human health and safety, endangered or threatened species may be removed, captured, or destroyed pursuant to a permit issued by the executive director, or without a permit in emergency situations.
3. Standards for Great Apes Kept under Tennessee’s Endangered Species Law
This section does not deal with housing conditions. There are also no state administrative regulations concerning the care and keeping of captive endangered species. In most of cases where an animal is held under an exception to the state law, a federal permit will be required and housing issues are addressed under the federal regulations. [See 9 C.F.R. 3.75 – 3.92 (housing, feeding and related care for non-human primates); 42 C.F.R. 9.4 & 9.6 (relating to chimpanzees in sanctuaries); 64 Fed Reg 38145 (relating to psychological well-being of non-human primates held by dealers, exhibitors and research facilities)].
Violation of the general prohibitions of the statute is a Class B misdemeanor (T. C. A. § 70-8-108). Failing to procure a permit or violating a permit procured under section 70-8-106 is a Class A misdemeanor.
C. Cruelty to Animals (T. C. A. §§ 39-14-201 – 215)
Tennessee’s anti-cruelty law is generally applicable to great apes. The statute provides that a person commits the offense of cruelty to animals if he or she intentionally or knowingly tortures, maims, or grossly overworks “an animal.” A person also commits cruelty to animals by unreasonably abandoning an animal in his or her custody or failing unreasonably to provide necessary food, water, care, or shelter for an animal in his or her custody. This section also prohibits the transport or confining of an animal in a cruel manner. “Animal” is defined by the statute as “a domesticated living creature or a wild creature previously captured.” Cruelty to animals is a Class A misdemeanor in Tennessee for a first violation. Any subsequent violation for cruelty to animals is a Class E felony. The statute makes it a defense to prosecution if a person was engaged in accepted veterinary practices, medical treatment by the owner or with consent of the owner, or bona fide experimentation for scientific research.
While state law does not prohibit the possession of great apes, Tennessee views great apes as “exotic wildlife,” through which possession is controlled by permit and housing requirements. While the law contains general standards of care for exotic wildlife, enforcement and inspection provisions are vague. As is true with many states, there is not an overall law that directly addresses the possession of apes or the specific needs of apes in captivity.