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Detailed Discussion of Virginia Great Ape Laws



Rebecca F. Wisch


Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
2013
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law

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I. Introduction

Virginia does not have a specific law that prohibits the possession of apes or otherwise addresses their care.  While the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has issued a regulation under authority of code sections §§ 29.1-103, 29.1-501 and 29.1-502 restricting the importation and possession of animals “detrimental to the native fish and wildlife resources of Virginia,” no primates are listed. 4 VAC 15-30-40. In fact, the regulation allows the possession of exotic species not listed provided a person is in compliance with other laws:

G. All other nonnative (exotic) animals. All other nonnative (exotic) animals not listed in subsection A of this section may be possessed and sold; provided, that such animals shall be subject to all applicable local, state, and federal laws and regulations, including those that apply to threatened/endangered species, and further provided, that such animals shall not be liberated within the Commonwealth.

4 VAC 15-30-40(G).

Virginia’s endangered species law is one such law that limits possession. It prohibits the taking, transport, and possession of endangered or threatened species, including federally-listed species.  Zoological and scientific uses are allowed under the act. A person who has such a permit to possess an endangered or threatened ape must still comply with specific primate importation requirements set forth in the state’s administrative rules.

Finally, apes are covered generally under the state’s anti-cruelty laws as nonhuman vertebrate species. The law prohibits abandonment, willful infliction of inhumane injury or pain, and deprivation of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment. It excludes activities that are part of bona fide scientific or medical experimentation.

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

While Virginia law does not provide an outright ban on the possession of apes or other primates, their status as endangered species restricts some uses. State 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 commercial exhibitor, as a sanctuary, or for scientific research purposes. This section examines the laws by those uses.

A. Private Possession of Great Apes

There is not a law in Virginia that bans private possession of great apes or any other primate directly. Instead, most forms of possession are banned by the state’s endangered species law. This covers all federally-listed endangered or threatened species and prohibits the possession of such species:

The taking, transportation, possession, sale, or offer for sale within the Commonwealth of any fish or wildlife appearing on any list of threatened or endangered species published by the United States Secretary of the Interior pursuant to the provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-205), or any modifications or amendments thereto, is prohibited except as provided in § 29.1-568.

Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-564. Moreover, exceptions under 29.1-568 do not contemplate use of these species as pets. Only “zoological, educational, or scientific purposes and for propagation of such fish or wildlife in captivity for preservation purposes” are allowed.
 

B. Traditional Zoos (Municipal or Accredited Zoos)

Great apes, as federally-listed endangered species, are protected under Virginia’s endangered species law. Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-564. This law prohibits the taking, transportation, possession, or sale of such species. However, the law specifically allows permits for “zoological purposes.” In light of this, a public or accredited zoo could likely obtain a state permit to possess great apes.

Great apes and other primates entering the state would also fall under Chapter 141 of the Virginia Regulations dealing with health requirements for the admission of animals. This chapter applies to primates generally (see 2 VAC 5-141-10) and requires a certificate of veterinary inspection.

Another section in the chapter has specific entry requirements for primates. These include:

  • A certificate of veterinary inspection issued within 10 days prior to entry.
  • Microchip identification with the microchip number noted on the certificate of veterinary inspection.
  • An official health certificate with a statement attesting to the fact that the veterinarian has carefully examined the oral mucosa of the primate and has found no evidence of disease lesions or inflammatory processes.
  • A Tuberculosis test as specified.

2 VA ADC 5-141-130. In essence, a zoological institution could likely obtain a permit to possess an endangered ape, but still must comply with health entry requirements for primates.

C. Exhibitors and “Roadside Zoos”

Since great apes are federally-listed endangered or threatened species under federal law, they are protected under Virginia’s endangered species act. This means that a person cannot take, possess, transport, or sell them. The law does allow the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to issue permits for “zoological, educational, or scientific purposes and for propagation of such fish or wildlife in captivity for preservation purposes” Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-568. It is assumed that a commercial exhibitor would not fall under one of these exceptions and thus be unable to obtain a state permit to exhibit great apes unless otherwise allowed by federal law.

C. Sanctuaries

Virginia law does not address great ape sanctuaries or the rehabilitation of exotic species. Since great apes are federally-listed species, they are covered by Virginia’s endangered species law. The law does contain exceptions for “zoological, educational, or scientific purposes and for propagation of such fish or wildlife in captivity for preservation purposes” Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-568. It is unclear whether ape sanctuaries could fit within one of those exceptions.

D. Scientific Testing and Research Facilities

Great apes, as federally-listed endangered species, are protected under Virginia’s endangered species law. Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-564. This law prohibits the taking, transportation, possession, or sale of such species. However, the law specifically allows a discretionary permit to be issued for “zoological, educational, or scientific purposes and for propagation of such fish or wildlife in captivity for preservation purposes” Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-568. In light of this, an institution that engages in scientific or medical research could likely obtain a state permit to possess great apes.

Great apes and other primates entering the state would also fall under Chapter 141 of the Virginia Regulations dealing with health requirements for the admission of animals. This chapter applies to primates generally (see 2 VAC 5-141-10) and requires a certificate of veterinary inspection.

However, those using primates for scientific research can claim an exception to compliance with the health entry requirements:

B. Agricultural animals, companion animals, or any other animals or birds of any species imported into Virginia for bona fide scientific research by a recognized agricultural institution or institution licensed by the USDA, and for which compliance with the requirements of this chapter would be a detriment to the research, may be excused from the requirements at the discretion of the State Veterinarian by the issuance of a permit.

2 VA ADC 5-141-40(B).

Another section in the chapter has specific entry requirements for primates. These include:

  • A certificate of veterinary inspection issued within 10 days prior to entry.
  • Microchip identification with the microchip number noted on the certificate of veterinary inspection.
  • An official health certificate with a statement attesting to the fact that the veterinarian has carefully examined the oral mucosa of the primate and has found no evidence of disease lesions or inflammatory processes.
  • A Tuberculosis test as specified.

2 VA ADC 5-141-130. In essence, an institution engaging in scientific research could likely obtain a permit to possess an endangered ape, but may have to comply with health entry requirements for primates.

III. State Laws Affecting Great Apes in Virginia

Virginia addresses the use and possession of great apes through only two avenues in its laws. The first is protection under the state endangered species law. This law restricts possession of federally listed endangered or threatened species. Second, great apes are protected from intentional cruelty and neglect under the state’s anti-cruelty provision. This section discusses these laws in more detail.

A. Endangered Species (Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-563, et. seq.)

Virginia prohibits the taking, transporting, possession, processing or selling of any wild animal specified by the department's endangered and threatened species list. As federally listed endangered or threatened species, great apes fall under the protection of this state law.

1. Which Great Apes are Covered?

Great meet the state definition of listed “endangered species:”

. . . any fish or wildlife appearing on any list of threatened or endangered species published by the United States Secretary of the Interior pursuant to the provisions of the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-205), or any modifications or amendments thereto . . .

Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-564. All great apes are listed on the federal list of endangered species or the list of threatened species (for captive-born chimpanzees).

2. What is Prohibited?

Virginia prohibits the taking, transportation, possession, sale, or offer for sale within the Commonwealth of endangered or threatened species. Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-564. Under a subsequent section, the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries is authorized to permit the taking, exportation, transportation or possession of wildlife listed under this article for “zoological, educational, or scientific purposes and for propagation of such fish or wildlife in captivity for preservation purposes.” Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-568.

3. Standards for Great Apes Kept under Virginia’s Endangered Species Law

This section does not deal with housing conditions, and there are no state administrative regulations concerning care and keeping of captive endangered species. In most of the 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)].

4. Penalties

Violation of Section 564 prohibiting the possession, sale or transportation of endangered or threatened species, or violation of any regulation or permit issued under this chapter, is a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-567(A). The department may also seize any goods, including the wildlife at issue, in connection with any violation under the chapter. Notably, “prior to forfeiture, the Director may direct the transfer of fish or wildlife so seized to a qualified zoological, educational, or scientific institution for safekeeping, with costs assessable to the defendant.” Va. Code Ann. § 29.1-567(B).

C. Cruelty to Animals (§ 3.2-6570)

Great apes are generally covered under Virginia anti-cruelty provisions as “animals” that are nonhuman vertebrate species. Va. Code Ann. § 3.2-6500. The relevant cruelty law related to great apes is Section 6570. This law prohibits the abandonment, willful infliction of inhumane injury or pain, and deprivation of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment. Va. Code Ann. § 3.2-6570(A). Violation of this subsection is a Class 1 misdemeanor. If a person tortures, willfully inflicts inhumane injury or pain, cruelly and unnecessarily beats, maims, mutilates or kills any animal, or if he or she maliciously deprives any companion animal of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment, resulting in death or euthanasia, that person is guilty of a Class 6 felony. Va. Code Ann. § 3.2-6570(B).

Both of these subsections exclude bona fide scientific or medical experimentation. Va. Code Ann. § 3.2-6570.

IV. Conclusion

Virginia does not ban or otherwise regulate the ownership of great apes. While great apes are protected as endangered species, permits may be granted for zoological, educational, or scientific purposes. This would then appear to prohibit private use of great apes as pets. Great apes are also protected from cruel mistreatment and abandonment under the state’s anti-cruelty law, but there are no standards that address their particularized care in the state.


 

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