Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Lions, tigers and bears: Lawmaker proposes ban on exotic pets

Republican senator targets potentially dangerous exotic pets

For those who can’t decide between a dog and a lion for their next furry companion, this new bill should help narrow it down.

A state bill from Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, would ban private ownership of potentially dangerous exotic pets — including nonnative big cats, apes and alligators — in residential areas, unless under a specific exemption, Wanggaard said.

Wanggaard said many times people don’t understand exotic pets are wild animals, and are therefore dangerous.


“Wild animals are still wild animals,” Wanggaard said. “Even though they might be friendly with someone they know very well, they’re still a wild animal. [This bill is] about understanding the dangers of those animals.”

Wanggaard said local law enforcement officers brought the exotic pet problem to his attention.

If exotic pets escape into the public, police are stripped of resources, Wanggaard said. If a police officer has to search for a dangerous exotic pet, they cannot focus on their usual duties. The lack of records on exotic pets also inhibits police work, he said.

This past July, what appeared to be an African lion was on the loose in Milwaukee. Between 20 and 30 officers were taken out of service in attempts to locate this large feline, Wanggaard said.

Wanggaard said if exotic pets had been registered in Milwaukee, officials might have been able to locate the lion. Law enforcement could have talked to registered owners of large felines in the area, found which specific lion was missing and located it faster, Wanggaard said. The lion sighted in Milwaukee was never found.

Certain organizations would be exempt from the legislation, including zoos, animal rehabilitation clinics and accredited licensed exhibitors. These organizations already have regulations in place — such as requirements for appropriate enclosures and medical care — to ensure owners are properly caring for exotic animals.

But the bill also has a “grandfathering in” clause that would allow current exotic pet owners to continue owning their pets as long as they get a permit from the state, which Wanggaard said would help to identify where exotic animals are in Wisconsin.

Adam Roberts, spokesperson for Born Free USA, said Wisconsin is one of only five states in the nation that lacks legislation for regulating exotic pets, and Wisconsin has an “exotic pet problem” in comparison to most other states.

“Individual states like Wisconsin … have to do more to stop the trade in particularly dangerous animals,” Roberts said.

Roberts said exotic pets pose a number of problems. Wild animals’ health can be compromised by efforts to make them more domesticated, exotic pets can endanger owners who may not know how to properly train them and, if exotic animals escape, they can cause serious injury to the public or become an invasive species, Roberts said.

But Zuzana Kukol, president of Responsible Exotic Animal Ownership, said the danger of exotic pets gets blown out of proportion.

“People are scared of the unknown,” Kukol said. “Exotic animal attacks are very rare, which makes them newsworthy.”

Kukol said one person dies by captive big cats in the U.S. per year, while 45,000 people die in traffic accidents and 25 to 30 people are killed by dogs. Exotic pets are not a public safety issue, Kukol said.

Besides the recent Milwaukee lion, Wanggaard pointed to a case two years ago where several alligators, crocodiles, large snakes and a venomous Gila monster were found in a Kenosha resident’s backyard. These reptiles had the potential to seriously injure someone, Wanggaard said, but fortunately, the Racine Zoo took the animals into custody.

But Kukol said isolated incidences of poor exotic pet care do not represent the majority of responsible exotic pet owners. Kukol said most exotic pets are small, easy to care for and not dangerous. Some wild animals need to be taken in when their habitats are encroached on by humans, Kukol said.

Since Wanggard’s bill focuses specifically on potentially dangerous animals, he said he hopes the bill will have bipartisan support as its aim is to ensure citizens and animals are safe.

“It’s not a Republican or Democrat issue to try to keep the public safe,” Wanggaard said. “Not only is it public safety, but it’s also about treating animals humanely.”

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