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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 Alaska Great Ape Laws



Hanna Coate


Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
2011
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law

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I. INTRODUCTION

In Alaska, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons are considered “game” animals which are regulated by the state’s Department of Fish and Game (DFG). In general, it is illegal to import and possess apes without a DFG permit. The agency does not issue permits to keep apes as pets or assistance animals (except for chimpanzees that were possessed prior to January 31, 2010). In fact, DFG only issues permits to import and possess apes for legitimate scientific and educational purposes. Certain commercial exhibitors (like traveling circuses) may be allowed to bring apes into the state with a temporary commercial use permit, but those animals may not remain in Alaska, and must be exported by the date on the permit. In addition to a DFG permit and any necessary federal permits, all apes that are imported into Alaska must be accompanied by a Department of Environmental Conservation permit and a health certificate.

The following discussion begins with a general overview of the various state statutes and regulations affecting Great Apes. It then analyzes the applicability of those laws to the possession and use of apes for specific purposes, including their possession as pets, for scientific research, for commercial purposes, and in sanctuaries.

 

II. STATE STATUTES AND REGULATIONS

Alaska has a variety of laws affecting the importation, possession, and treatment of apes. The Fish and Game Code and its accompanying regulations lay out the rules for who may import and possess “game” animals (including apes), and for which purposes. The Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations establish additional requirements for the importation of those animals. Finally, certain provisions within the state’s Criminal Law; Agriculture, Animals, and Food Law; and Code of Civil Procedure set standards for the treatment and confinement of apes and other animals.  

 

A. FISH AND GAME CODE

Alaska’s Fish and Game Code establishes the Board of Game (BOG) and the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) and charges those two agencies with regulating “game” animals throughout the state.[1] AK ST § 16.05.940 defines “game” as any species of mammal found or introduced in the state, which includes all species of captive apes.[2] Section 16.05.920 of the Fish and Game Code generally makes it illegal to buy, sell, possess, or transport any game animal except as authorized under BOG regulations.

1. Importation and Possession of Game Animals

Pursuant to Section 92.029 of the Fish and Game regulations, a DFG permit is required to import or possess all game animals, including apes.[3] The agency does not issue permits to import, possess, or export any ape for use as a pet or service animal, except that a person who possessed a chimpanzee as a pet before January 31, 2010 may retain possession of that animal with a DFG permit. In order to qualify for that exemption, the chimpanzee’s owner would have had to obtain a DFG permit by July 1, 2010.[4]

DFG may issue permits to possess apes for legitimate research or educational (zoos, museums, universities, etc.) purposes,[5] but according to one agency representative, DFG is very conservative in what they allow.[6] In fact, DFG’s Division of Wildlife Permit Coordinator is not aware of any apes possessed by zoos or research institutions in the State of Alaska.[7] In the event that the agency were to issue a possession permit for an ape, the agency would look to the Federal Animal Welfare Act[8] for standards under which to keep the animal, and could impose additional requirements as permit stipulations.[9]

In addition to issuing permits for legitimate scientific and educational purposes, DFG issues permits for the temporary commercial use of apes (and other non-indigenous game animals) in traveling circuses, animal shows, and film productions.[10] A temporary commercial use permit, which is valid for up to 120 days, authorizes the importation, possession, and exportation of covered animals. Permittees are required to post a surety deposit with DFG, which is forfeited to the agency if the permitted animals are not exported by the date specified on the permit.[11] A temporary commercial use permit issued under 5 AAC 92.035 is non-renewable and each individual or entity is limited to one permit per 12 month period. DFG may impose permit conditions relating to animal care and treatment, intrastate transport, medical testing, and reporting requirements.[12]

2. Breeding of Apes

Under Section 92.029 of the Fish and Game regulations, it is illegal to breed chimpanzees in Alaska.[13] There are no rules which specifically address the breeding of gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, or gibbons.[14]

3. Purchase and Sale

Although the importation and possession of apes is heavily regulated by DFG, transactions involving those animals are not. The state’s Fish and Game Code makes it illegal to buy and sell any game animal, except as specifically authorized in that law or in BOG regulations.[15] Under Section 92.200 of the Fish and Game regulations, the purchase and sale of most game animals, including apes, is expressly permitted.[16]

4. Enforcement

All state and local law enforcement officers and DFG agents may enforce the Fish and Game Code.[17] Any person who imports, possesses, or breeds an ape in violation of the Fish and Game Code or BOG regulations is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.[18]

 

B. ANIMAL HEALTH RULES

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulates the interstate movement of animals,[19] including apes, in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.[20] Under Section 36.005 of the Environmental Conservation regulations, it is illegal to import animals that have been infected with, or exposed to, a communicable disease. Also, a DEC permit and health certificate must accompany all animals entering the state.[21] 

An ape that is imported or possessed in violation of DEC’s regulations is deemed to be a public nuisance injurious to the public interest and may not be moved except as directed by DEC.[22] The State Veterinarian may quarantine (at the owner’s expense) an animal that enters the state without the required permit or health certificate or an animal that exhibits symptoms of a communicable disease.[23] Any person who imports or possesses an ape in violation of Chapter 5 of Alaska’s Agriculture, Animals, and Food Code; the Environmental Conservation regulations; or a DEC quarantine is guilty of a class A misdemeanor, and in addition to criminal penalties may be assessed a civil fine of up to $500.00 for each offense.[24]

 

C. STATE GENERAL ANTI-CRUELTY LAWS

The state’s anti-cruelty laws,[25] which prohibit the neglect or mistreatment of animals,[26] generally apply to Great Apes in Alaska. Because all captive apes are necessarily dependent on their keepers, the following minimum standards of care are particularly relevant:

(1) Food and water sufficient to maintain an animal in good health;

(2) An environment compatible with protecting and maintaining the good health and safety of the animal; and

(3) Reasonable medical care.[27]

If a person fails to maintain an animal pursuant to those minimum standards, and as a result causes an animal to endure severe physical pain or prolonged suffering, then that person is guilty of animal cruelty under AK ST § 11.61.140(d).

In addition, apes are sometimes trained or induced to perform for public entertainment by chemical, electrical, mechanical, and manual devices that inflict physical or psychological injuries. Accordingly,  AK ST § 11.61.140 which prohibits any person from inflicting severe and prolonged physical pain or suffering on an animal may protect apes from being physically abused in the course of training, to induce performances, or for any other reason.

The following activities are exempt:

(1) Scientific research governed by accepted standards;

(2) Accepted veterinary or animal husbandry practices; and

(3) Professionally accepted training and discipline standards.

Animal cruelty is a class A misdemeanor or a class C felony, depending on the severity of the crime and the defendant’s history of similar convictions.[28] In addition to fines and imprisonment a conviction may result in any or all of the following:

(1) Forfeiture of the animal victim(s);

(2) Liability for all reasonable costs incurred in providing necessary shelter, care, and veterinary treatment to the animal victim(s); and

(3) An order barring the defendant from owning or possessing animals for up to 10 years.

 

D. CIVIL LIABILITY OF ZOOS

Under Section 09.65.180 of Alaska’s Code of Civil Procedure, any person who owns or operates a zoo is strictly liable (meaning liable regardless of whether he or she is at fault) for injuries or damages caused by the zoo’s animals, unless the following conditions are met:

(1) The animal that caused the injury or damage was in his/her normal place of confinement when the injury or damage occurred;

(2) Signs were posted at prominent places within the zoo warning that the liability of the zoo for injuries caused by animals within their normal place of confinement is limited by law; and

(3) The animal’s enclosure was constructed and maintained so that a person exercising ordinary care could not make physical contact with the animal or enter the enclosure.[29]

 

E. LOCAL LAWS

While the importation and possession of apes are regulated under both federal and state laws, county and municipal governments may also regulate animals within their jurisdictions.[30] Typically, those local ordinances either restrict the possession of animals, regulate activities involving animals, or set minimum standards for the housing and care of animals. The following examples demonstrate how some towns, cities, and counties in Alaska have addressed the possession of apes (and other wild or exotic animals) within their communities:

Palmer 6.08.020(E): It is illegal to keep or harbor any “exotic” animal in the city. The ban does not apply to certain fairs (with an annual attendance over 50,000) and circuses with a local permit.  (Ord. 631 § 5, 2004; Ord. 538 § 6, 1999; Ord. 277 § 4, 1983); 6.08.090(C): It is illegal to keep any “wild” animal within the city limits, except that circuses, zoos, and educational institutions may exhibit those animals, subject to local regulations. (Ord. 631 § 5, 2004; Ord. 277 § 4, 1983)

Thorne Bay 6.04.080: It is illegal to keep any “wild animal,” including an ape, as a pet. (Ord. 93-12 § 4(part), 1993:  Ord. 87-07 § 8, 1987)

Valdez 6.08.050: It is illegal to keep any “wild” animal within the city limits, except for exhibition by circuses, zoos, and educational institutions, subject to local regulations and conditions established by the chief of police. (Ord. 09-07 § 2 (part): prior code § 4-14)

 

III. POSSESSORS OF GREAT APES

In the U.S., captive apes are generally possessed for use as pets, scientific research subjects, for exhibition or other commercial purposes, or they are retired and live in sanctuaries. The remainder of this section discusses how the state’s laws affect apes that are possessed for each of those purposes.

 

A. PETS

It is illegal to import or keep all species of apes as pets. The only exception to this ban is for individuals who had a pet chimpanzee prior to January 31, 2010 and obtained a Department of Fish and Game permit for that animal before July 1, 2010.[31]

The following list outlines what pet owners can and can’t do under the law:

  • Importation: Apes may not be imported for use as pets.
  • Transportation: Apes cannot be possessed (even for transportation purposes) by the general public.
  • Possession: Banned; an exemption exists for chimpanzees that were possessed prior to January 31, 2010 and are held under a valid DFG permit.
  • Sale: Not restricted.[32]
  • Breeding: It is illegal to breed chimpanzees.[33] There are no rules addressing the breeding of gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons.
  • Living Conditions: Apes must be maintained according to the state’s minimum standards of care[34] and are protected by the Alaska’s anti-cruelty laws.[35] DFG may impose additional requirements for the housing and care of apes as permit conditions.

 

B. ZOOS

It is illegal to import and possess apes except with a DFG permit. The agency does issue permits for legitimate educational activities by zoos.[36]  Under Alaska’s Code of Civil Procedure, owners and operators of zoos are strictly liable for injuries and damages caused by their animals, unless the animals are confined according to the conditions set forth in that law. See Section II(A)(D), above. All zoos must comply with the state’s general minimum standards of care for animals.[37] In addition, all zoos are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Federal Animal Welfare Act[38] and must comply with the federal minimum standards of care for primates.

 

C. EXHIBITORS (USDA CLASS C LICENSEES)

There are various types of exhibitors that display apes, including: circuses, wild animal parks, sanctuaries, and performing animal acts. A DFW permit is required to import and possess all species of apes, and under Alaska’s Fish and Game regulations those permits are only issued for scientific and educational purposes. The agency must decide on a case by case basis whether each exhibitor applying for a permit intends to import or possess an ape for a qualifying purpose.

Travelling circuses, animal shows, and film productions may obtain a temporary commercial use permit which authorizes the importation, possession, and exportation of apes (and other non-indigenous game animals) within a fixed period of time (no more than 120 days).[39] The animals held under a temporary commercial use permit must be removed from the state before the permit expires. In addition to a DFW permit and any necessary federal permits, all apes that are imported for exhibition must be accompanied by a Department of Environmental Conservation import permit and a health certificate. See Section II(B), above.

All exhibitors must comply with the state’s general minimum standards of care for animals.[40] In addition, exhibitors with apes are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Federal Animal Welfare Act[41] and must comply with the federal minimum standards of care for primates.

 

D. SANCTUARIES

Alaska has no laws governing the establishment of exotic animal sanctuaries nor are those types of facilities addressed in DFG’s rules governing the possession of game animals.

 

E. RESEARCH FACILITIES

Apes may be imported and possessed for legitimate scientific activities with a DFG permit and any necessary federal permits.[42] In addition, research facilities that wish to import apes must obtain a Department of Environmental Conservation import permit and health certificate. Under Section 36.005 of the Environmental Conservation regulations, it is illegal to import animals that have been infected with, or exposed to, a communicable disease; there is no exception for research facilities. Alaska does not regulate the use of apes in scientific research. However, all research facilities with primates are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Federal Animal Welfare Act[43] and those facilities must comply with the federal minimum standards of care for laboratory apes.

 

IV. CONCLUSION

In general, Alaska’s rules for the importation and possession of apes are fairly straight-forward. It is illegal to import or possess all species of apes for use as pets or assistance animals (with the narrow exception for chimpanzees possessed before January 31, 2010). Certain facilities may keep apes for educational or scientific purposes with a DFG permit and any necessary federal permits. Out-of state commercial exhibitors may bring apes into Alaska on a temporary basis with a DFG permit and any required federal permits. Anyone wishing to import an ape for those limited purposes must also obtain a DEC import permit and ensure that the imported animals have not been exposed to, or infected with, a communicable disease. Even with all appropriate federal and state permits, the possession and use of apes may be further restricted by local laws.

 



[6] E-mail from Tom Schumacher, Permits Administrator, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation (June 24, 2010) (on file with the author).

[7] Id.

[8] 7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq.

[9] Id.

[14] But see, Alaska Admin. Code tit. 5 § 92.033(a) (the agency may issue a permit to import or possess game for propagative purposes).

[16] Alaska Admin. Code tit. 5 § 92.200(a). This regulation does include certain restrictions on the purchase and sale of game animals, none of which apply to apes.

[18] Alaska Stat. § 16.05.925. Anyone who violated BOG’s Game regulations (5 AAC 84- 5 AAC 92) is strictly liable for the offense, regardless of that person’s intent. Alaska Admin. Code tit. 5 § 92.002.

[19]Animal” means an animal other than a human being and includes a mammal, insect, bird, fish, and reptile, whether wild or domestic, and whether living or dead. Alaska Stat. § 03.05.100.

[21] Alaska Admin. Code tit. 18 § 36.005; DEC houses the State Veterinarian’s Office, which issues the import permits. Alaska Stat. § 03.05.013; See, Alaska Admin. Code tit. 18 § 36.010 (outlining permit application requirements); Alaska Admin. Code tit. 18 § 36.015 (listing specific requirements for health certificates).

[24] Alaska Stat. § 03.05.090; Each animal involved and each day that a violation continues constitutes a separate offense. Id.

[26] For purposes of the anti-cruelty laws, “animal” means a vertebrate living creature not a human being, but does not include fish. Alaska Stat. § 11.81.900; Alaska Stat. § 03.55.190.

[28]Alaska Stat. § 11.61.140(g,h). See also, Alaska Stat. § 03.55.110 (investigation of animal cruelty complaints); Alaska Stat. § 03.55.120 (seizure of animals); and Alaska Stat. § 03.55.130 (destruction and adoption of animals).

[30] Alaska Stat. § 29.35.200; Alaska Stat. § 29.35.210; Alaska Stat. § 29.35.220; Alaska Stat. § 29.35.250; Alaska Stat. § 29.35.260.

[36] But see, Section II(A)(1), above. As a practical matter, the agency’s Division of Wildlife Conservation Permits Coordinator was not aware of any zoos in Alaska with permits to possess apes as of June 24, 2010.

[38] 7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq.

[41] 7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq.

[43] 7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq.

 

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