4 things to know about raising wild animals
When a federal jury recently ruled in favor of Milwaukee police officers who in 2010 broke into a South Side building filled with reptiles, it settled a lawsuit from Terry Cullen alleging nearly $4.5 million. damages.
But that didn’t settle any separate questions readers might have had about what keeping wild or so-called exotic animals entails.
Wisconsin is one of four states that has virtually no laws on keeping dangerous wild animals as pets. Various efforts have been made in the state legislature to ban certain exotic pets, but all have failed.
Over the years, the occasional public sighting of what people think is a lion (that would be Milwaukee in 2015) or a kangaroo running away (Franklin last June) has captured the public’s attention. And the 2010 raid involving more than 200 animals at the Cullen building drew international attention. All charges against the reptile conservationist were ultimately dismissed.
So what should be considered if looking to obtain and own an exotic pet in Wisconsin? Here are four things to keep in mind:
You might need a license
The state Department of Natural Resources offers several types of licenses. Amanda Kamps, MNR’s wildlife health conservation specialist, said the permit depends on the animal you want and what you’ll be using it for.
The DNR offers several different licenses: the Captive Wildlife Breeding License, the Non-Profit Educational Exhibit License, and the Non-Resident Temporary Exhibit License. If you are looking to own an exotic animal as a pet, for example, you will need to obtain the Wild Animal Captive Breeding Permit.
The DNR requires a license for anything designated as a “wild nuisance animal.” This includes all bears, cougars, mute swans, and wolf-dog hybrids. Licenses are also required for any endangered or threatened species.
Another important agency to keep in mind if you are importing exotic species from outside of Wisconsin is the state’s Department of Agriculture, Commerce, and Consumer Protection. It generally requires a license and a veterinary inspection certificate for any animal coming from outside of Wisconsin.
At the federal level, some animals may require a license from the US Department of Agriculture or the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Those seeking to breed animals for sale, use in research, transport commercially or display publicly must obtain a permit.
Jill Carnegie, founder and president of Valley of the Kings Sanctuary, has for years rescued lions, bears, tigers and other exotic animals seized by the USDA and DNR at her sanctuary in Sharon. She said finding out if a breeder is USDA-licensed is an important step if you’re considering getting an exotic pet.
“If (you) are going to buy from a breeder, make sure they’re legit,” Carnegie said.
Local ordinances are essential
Since the state of Wisconsin does not have a statewide exotic pet law, each city or municipality can regulate which exotic pets are prohibited.
Janesville, for example, prohibits the possession of all types of wild, exotic, or vicious animals, including poisonous snakes, lions, monkeys, and alligators, among others.
James Vickery understands how important it is to pay attention to local ordinances. That’s part of the reason the reptile breeder moved from Oshkosh to Waupaca, where restrictions on exotic reptiles aren’t as stringent. Vickery primarily deals with snakes, raising everything from ball pythons to boa constrictors.
Inside the Waupaca city limits, residents can legally have a snake under 10 feet long, but since Vickery lives outside of town, there are no regulations, he said. he declares. Back in Oshkosh, he wouldn’t have been allowed to have a snake longer than a meter.
“Make sure where you live it’s allowed,” Vickery said.
Pete Dunn, executive director of captive wildlife for the DNR, said the local approach to regulation appears to be working.
“Trying to create a…one size fits all…sometimes sounds good, but can be very difficult because it’s hard to know the idiosyncrasies of each community,” he said.
Thoroughly research the exotic animal and its needs
Dunn, Carnegie, Kamps and Vickery all said it was crucial to research the specific type of exotic animal before obtaining it.
“More people are killed for lack of knowledge and not meeting the needs of an animal in the exotic world than anything else,” Carnegie said.
Vickery said he gets a phone call at least four to five times a year to pick up a snake because someone can’t take care of it.
“People think, ‘Oh, that’s really cute. That’s really pretty. I want to have that. And they don’t realize how big it’s going to get,” he said of exotic snakes.
Kamps said there are a lot of issues to consider if people want to get an exotic pet. How much space does the animal need? What type of diet or medical care does he require? What social needs does he have?
“Exotic pets … are very different in providing care compared to our typical pets that we have. They have very specific needs,” she said.
If you are unsure of the regulations, just ask.
“The best advice I can give anyone is if they’re looking…I would suggest they contact the DNR just to check if the DNR license is needed,” Kamps said.
The same goes for regulators at the local level or at the USDA or the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Bottom line: Contact an expert first.