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Great Apes and the Law: A complete resource for the legal status of the Great Apes within the United States
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Detailed Discussion of Wyoming Great Ape Laws

Rebecca F. Wisch

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

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I. Introduction

Wyoming has no law that restricts or otherwise mentions great apes. In fact, Wyoming does not even have a state endangered species provision providing additional state protection for endangered or threatened species. The only possible reference that could include great apes is the definition for “exotic species” under the general fish and game code definitions. However, there are no accompanying restrictions on possession or importation of those exotic species.

The state’s cruelty law is broad enough to include great apes. There are no exceptions under the cruelty for scientific research or testing.

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

Wyoming has no law that restricts possession or use of a great ape by any person or entity. Typical uses of apes in the U.S. include private possession, (e.g., as a “pet”), at a traditional or roadside zoo, at a sanctuary, or for scientific research purposes. Since some Wyoming administrative regulations could be interpreted to apply to great apes, the listed uses are examined individually.

A. Private Possession of Great Apes

There are no limitations on possessing great apes as pets in the state of Wyoming. While apes would be classified by law as “exotic species,” there are no subsequent restrictions on private possession of those animals (W. S. 1977 § 23-1-101(a)(ii)).

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

There are no limitations on possessing great apes as in traditional or roadside zoos in the state of Wyoming. While apes would be classified by law as “exotic species,” there are no restrictions on private possession of those animals (W. S. 1977 § 23-1-101(a)(ii)).

C. Sanctuaries

While state law or regulation does not use the term “sanctuary,” it is unclear whether possession would be governed by the regulations for wildlife rehabilitation.  These regulations are issued under the authority of W.S. §23-1-103 (general definitions for the Game and Fish Commission) and W.S. §23-1-302 (powers and duties of the State Game and Fish Commission). Chapter 45 of the administrative code details the criteria for obtaining a permit to rehabilitate wildlife. While the term “wildlife” is not specifically defined in the regulations, the chapter incorporates the definitions of Title 23 of the Wyoming Code. That section defines “wildlife” as:

all wild mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, crustaceans and mollusks, and wild bison designated by the Wyoming game and fish commission and the Wyoming livestock board within Wyoming.

WY ST § 23-1-101(a)(xiii).

This appears to limit the rehabilitation provisions to native Wyoming species.  Further, the regulations stated purpose is to provide, “. . . sick, injured, debilitated, or orphaned wildlife and provide necessary treatment in order that the wildlife may be returned to live in the wild independent of human aid and sustenance.”  This evidently would apply only to native species since only native species could be released.

D. Scientific Testing and Research Facilities

The state administrative provisions promulgated under W.S. 23-1-302 allow the taking of “Wyoming wildlife” for scientific collection. At first blush, the definition of wildlife in that chapter is broad enough to include apes:

(f) “Wildlife” means every wild mammal, bird, fish, amphibian, reptile, mollusk, crustacean, their viable gametes (eggs and sperm), fertilized eggs, or any hybrid (including hybrids between wildlife and wildlife and hybrids between wildlife and domestic or domesticated animals) or any transgenic product thereof.

WY Rules and Regulations GAME HUNT Ch. 33 s 4.

 However, the stated purpose of the chapter appears targeted at the taking of native Wyoming species:

The purpose of this regulation is to govern and regulate the issuance of permits to take, capture, handle, and transport Wyoming wildlife for scientific research, educational or special purposes.

[Emphasis added]. 

WY Rules and Regulations GAME HUNT Ch. 33 s 2.

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 Montana

Wyoming does not address the possession, importation, or captive care of apes in any laws or administrative regulations. The only inclusion of apes would be the state’s general anti-cruelty provision. That section prohibits both intentional cruelty toward any animal and neglect. Intentional cruelty would involve the cruel beating, torturing, tormenting, injuring, mutilating or attempted killing of an animal and is punishable as a misdemeanor. W. S. 1977 § 6-3-203. If the actor intends to cause death, injury or undue suffering, and the activity results in the death or necessary euthanasia of the animal, it becomes aggravated cruelty, a felony.  W. S. 1977 § 6-3-203(n). Neglect occurs when a person has the charge and custody of any animal and unnecessarily fails to provide it with the proper food, drink or protection from the weather, or cruelly abandons the animal, or in the case of immediate, obvious, serious illness or injury, fails to provide the animal with appropriate care. W. S. 1977 § 6-3-203(b). This is a misdemeanor under the cruelty law. W. S. 1977 § 6-3-203(e).

IV. Conclusion

Wyoming is devoid of any mention of great apes, or non-human primates in general, it its laws or regulations. It can safely be said that possession by any person, whether the use is for a private pet, to display in an animal act, or for commercial breeding would be legal (subject to federal restrictions or prohibition by local ordinance).  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.



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