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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 Illinois Great Apes 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

As of January 1, 2011, the possession of gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons is banned in Illinois. However, circuses, zoos, and other exhibitors, research facilities, and animal refuges are exempt from the ban. Those exempt facilities are not required to obtain state permits to possess or display apes. Illinois has no minimum standards for the housing and care of captive apes and beyond the limited restrictions on possessing apes, there are no state laws aimed at protecting the public from the safety risks posed by those animals. Two state agencies, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDA) and the Illinois Department of Public Health (DPH), exercise limited control over certain activities involving apes. IDA regulates the importation of apes and enforces the state’s anti-cruelty laws. DPH generally does not regulate apes or other animals, but that agency is responsible for administering public grants for scientific research projects, including those involving apes. To that end, DPH has some authority to set guidelines for the treatment and use of apes in state-funded research projects.   

Political subdivisions of the state, including counties, cities, and towns also regulate the possession or use of apes within their geographical boundaries. In order to fill the large gaps in the state-level laws relating to apes, many cities and counties in Illinois have enacted stricter local laws governing the possession and use of those animals. Typically, local ordinances either: (1) ban the possession of apes for certain purposes, or entirely; (2) regulate activities involving apes; or (3) set minimum standards for the care and treatment of apes.

The various sources of law governing the import, possession, use and treatment of Great Apes are not uniformly applicable to all apes within the state. Instead, each statute and regulation must be analyzed according to the particular purpose for which an ape is possessed. 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. Sources of State Laws

There are two types of state-level laws that govern the import, possession, use, and treatment of apes: (1) statutes, and (2) regulations. Statutes are laws that are enacted by the state legislature and regulations are laws that are enacted by state agencies. Without an express delegation of power from the state legislature, agencies have no authority to issue and enforce regulations. This delegation of power comes from a statute that directs an agency to accomplish a general goal, like regulating the importation of apes to prevent the spread of infectious diseases or setting minimum standards of care for captive apes. Once an agency is directed to accomplish a general goal, it has the authority to establish and enforce regulations that are consistent with that goal. On the other hand, some state statutes are self-implementing, which means they are complete and in effect without the need for regulations and enforcement by administrative agencies. Those statutes, which are in Section A below, directly regulate the conduct of the citizenry rather than directing an agency to do so. Section B identifies the state agencies that have been authorized by the state legislature to regulate certain aspects of the importation, possession, or use of apes, and discusses the regulations that those agencies have enacted that affect apes.

A. State Statutes

In Illinois, there are two main sets of laws governing the possession and treatment of apes. The recently amended Dangerous Animal Act (DAA) bans the possession of apes by exotic pet owners, breeders, and dealers. That law does allow the possession of apes for exhibition and scientific research and does not include any standards of care for apes that are kept for those purposes. The state’s Humane Care for Animals Act generally prohibits the outright abuse and neglect of captive apes. Like the DAA, it does not set minimum standards of care to ensure that apes are maintained in a manner that ensures their physical, psychological, or social well-being.

1. Illinois Dangerous Animals Act

In 2010, the Illinois legislature added gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons to the list of prohibited animals under the state’s Dangerous Animal Act (DAA).[1] Under that law, no “person”[2] or entity may have any property right in,  keep, harbor, care for, maintain, or possess any ape, except for the following: zoos, circuses, U.S. Department of Agriculture licensed exhibitors, colleges or universities, scientific institutions, research laboratories, veterinary hospitals, and animal refuges.[3] The DAA does not define “animal refuges,” nor does it include any basis for determining which facilities qualify as legitimate “animal refuges.”

Any person who legally possessed an ape as a pet prior to January 1, 2011 may continue to possess that ape for the remainder of the animal’s life, as long as the ape was registered with the local animal control agency before April 1, 2011. Individuals who possess apes pursuant to this grandfather clause are required to comply with certain notification requirements when an ape is relocated, dies, escapes, bites, scratches, or injures a person. The registration and notification requirements apply only to pet owners and not to the exempt facilities listed above (exhibitors, research facilities, animal refuges, etc.).

As with other criminal laws, the DAA is enforced by state and local law enforcement agents. The possession of an ape in violation of the DAA ban is a Class C misdemeanor and each day that an ape is possessed illegally constitutes a separate offense.[4] In addition to fines and imprisonment, a conviction under the DAA will result in the forfeiture of illegally possessed apes and liability for the costs associated with seizing and caring for the animals.[5]

2. Anti-Cruelty Statutes

The state’s Humane Care for Animals Act (HCAA),[6] which prohibits acts or omissions that cause an animal to suffer, generally applies to Great Apes in Illinois.[7] Because all captive apes are necessarily dependant on their keepers, the portions of the law which require owners to provide their animals with sufficient food, water, shelter, and veterinary care are particularly relevant.[8] 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, the provisions that prohibit any person from beating, cruelly treating, tormenting, injuring, overworking, or torturing an animal may be utilized to protect apes that are physically abused in the course of training, to induce performances, or for any other reason.[9]

Since 2006, it has been illegal to defang apes under the Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA);[10] yet that practice continues to be legal under the HCAA.[11] Despite the federal government’s finding that the removal of the canine teeth in apes can cause “ongoing pain, discomfort, and pathological conditions,” and the American Veterinary Medical Association’s general opposition to the procedure,[12] anyone not regulated under the AWA (such as private pet owners and certain sanctuaries) may still legally defang their apes under state law.[13]

The Humane Care for Animals Act protects apes that are transported for travelling circuses (or for any other purpose) by prohibiting their confinement in vehicles for more than 28 hours without “necessary” exercise and access to food and water. This law not only applies to the owners of the animals, but also to transport companies that have temporary custody of apes.[14]

All state and local law enforcement officers, Illinois Department of Agriculture agents, and duly appointed humane investigators[15] can enforce the HCAA.[16] However, they may not investigate HCAA violations committed by scientific research facilities that are registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[17] If an ape is kept as a pet (as opposed to maintained for entertainment or research purposes), then an animal control warden may also investigate allegations of neglect or cruelty against that animal.[18]

A violation of the HCAA may be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the severity of the act and the defendant’s history of similar offenses.[19] Convictions under the HCAA may result in any or all of the following: (1) fines; (2) imprisonment; (3) court-ordered psychiatric evaluation/treatment; or (4) impoundment[20] and forfeiture of animal victims.

B. State Agencies and Regulations

Compared to many other states, Illinois’s agencies exercise little administrative control over the importation, possession, use, or treatment of apes within the state. The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDA) – has limited authority to regulate the importation, sale, and treatment of apes under the Illinois Diseased Animals Act, the state’s Animal Welfare Act, and the Humane Care for Animals Act. The Illinois Department of Public Health does not generally regulate apes but it does set guidelines for the treatment of apes (and other animals) that are used in state-funded scientific research projects.

1. Illinois Department of Agriculture

The Illinois Department of Agriculture’s (IDA) Bureau of Animal Health is responsible for protecting the health and welfare of the animals within the state. To that end, the agency implements and enforces the state’s Diseased Animals Act, Animal Welfare Act (AWA),[21] and the Humane Care for Animals Act (HCAA). IDA used to require an import permit and certificate of veterinary inspection for all apes entering the state, [22] but the agency repealed that rule in 2007. Now, under the state’s Diseased Animals Act and other IDA regulations, only those apes entering the state for exhibition purposes are required to have an import permit issued by IDA and a certificate of veterinary inspection.[23] IDA maintains a list of contagious or infectious diseases[24] and any ape (or other animal) that is infected with, or has recently been exposed to, any disease on that list is prohibited from entering or being transported within the state (except for animals being transported for veterinary treatment).[25] Among the diseases on IDA’s list that apes may contract or transmit are: anthrax, Japanese encephalitis, monkeypox, Johne’s disease, rabies, tuberculosis, tularemia, and West Nile Virus.[26]

Under Illinois’s Animal Welfare Act (AWA),[27] IDA licenses and regulates the acquisition, treatment, and sale of animals by retail pet shops, kennels, animal shelters, animal control facilities, and foster homes.[28] The state’s recently-enacted Dangerous Animal Act[29] generally prohibits the possession of apes by those entities, so IDA’s regulation of apes under the AWA is quite limited. The agency has enacted one relevant rule which prohibits the sale of apes by all IDA-licensed facilities.[30] Any licensee that sells an ape is guilty of a Class C misdemeanor[31] and may be assessed administrative fines.[32]

Finally, IDA has non-exclusive authority to enforce the state’s Humane Care for Animals Act (HCAA), which generally prohibits the abuse and neglect of apes in Illinois. (See Section 2(A)(ii), above.) The agency has its own enforcement agents and it also appoints humane investigators (who are employed by humane societies) to enforce the HCAA.[33] All state and local law enforcement officers may also enforce the HCAA within their jurisdictions.

2. Illinois Department of Public Health

The Illinois Department of Public Health (DPH) administers various health programs and distributes state funds to approved biomedical research projects. Under the Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute (IRMI) program, DPH awards grants for stem cell research in Illinois[34] and sets guidelines for state-funded research projects. Pursuant to DPH rules, any state-funded stem-cell research involving apes (or other animals) must be approved by a research facility’s Internal Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) using the standards set forth in the Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.[35] (For more on federal animal research guidelines and IACUC’s, see the detailed discussion on the Federal Animal Welfare Act.) In addition, all state-funded research projects involving apes must be conducted in compliance with the Federal AWA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) regulations.[36] Although it is unusual for the government to limit the types of experiments that can be conducted on apes (or other animals), DPH rules prohibit grantees from transplanting human embryonic stem cells into apes and other primates.[37] DHP will suspend or revoke state funding of any IRMI grant recipient who conducts stem cell research on apes (or other animals) in violation of the Federal Animal Welfare Act, USDA regulations, and the agency may recover any funds already dispersed.[38]

III. Analysis of State Laws as Applied to Specific Uses

The statutes and regulations discussed above each govern certain aspects of the import, possession, use, or treatment of captive apes. The laws are not uniformly applicable to all apes; instead, they vary according to the particular purpose for which an ape is possessed. 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 those purposes.

A. Possession of Great Apes as Pets

As of January 1, 2011, it is illegal to possess any ape as a pet;[39] however, the ban has a grandfather clause. Any pet ape that was legally possessed before January 1, 2011 may be kept for the remainder of the animal’s life, as long as he or she is registered with the local animal control agency by April 1, 2011.[40] It is also illegal for breeders and dealers to possess apes, and retail pet stores may not sell apes.[41]

There are no state laws which set minimum standards of care for apes that are possessed as pets. This is particularly problematic from a welfare standpoint because the Federal Animal Welfare Act[42] (which does set minimum standards of care for apes) does not cover pet apes. As a result, pet apes may be maintained in complete isolation for life in bare cages with nothing but food and water. The state’s anti-cruelty laws, discussed in Section 2(A)(ii) above, do protect Great Apes that are kept as pets. So, while state law does prohibit the outright abuse and extreme neglect of those animals, it does nothing to ensure that pet apes are maintained in a manner that promotes their physical, psychological, and social well-being.

B. Possession of Great Apes for Biomedical Research

The Dangerous Animal Act expressly exempts scientific institutions and research laboratories from the state’s ban on the possession of apes.[43] Therefore, it is legal to import, possess, and use apes for biomedical research in Illinois. The state has no import requirements (such as health certificates) for apes that are used in scientific research; but, it does prohibit the importation of apes that have been infected with, or exposed to, certain infectious diseases (see Section 2(B)(i), above). As a result, apes that were previously used by out-of-state laboratories for infectious disease research involving those prohibited diseases may not be imported by research facilities in Illinois.[44]

The Humane Care for Animal’s Act (HCAA) generally exempts research facilities from the state’s anti-cruelty laws.[45] In fact, the HCAA does not allow state or local law enforcement officers to investigate allegations of animal abuse or neglect in research facilities that are registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (all research facilities that use apes must be registered with that agency under the Federal Animal Welfare Act).[46]

In general, there are no state laws protecting apes that are possessed for scientific research or regulating the acquisition and use of those animals. However, the Illinois Department of Public Health (DPH), which distributes public money for scientific research projects, has some authority to set guidelines for DPH-funded research experiments involving apes and other animals. (See Section 2(B)(ii), above.) In the case of DPH’s Illinois Regenerative Medicine Institute (IRMI) program, which funds stem cell research in Illinois, DPH mandates that all grantees conduct their experiments involving apes (and other animals) in compliance with the Federal Animal Welfare Act, U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, and DPH rules. Also, DPH prohibits grantees from transplanting human embryonic stem cells into apes and other primates.[47] This rule is actually noteworthy because lawmakers have historically avoided limiting the types of experiments that can be conducted on apes and other animals. Any IRMI grantee that violates the aforementioned laws and rules is subject to the suspension or revocation of their grant.

C. Possession of Great Apes for entertainment and other Commercial Purposes

The commercial use of apes generally includes breeding, sale, display and exhibition of those animals. Under the Dangerous Animal Act (DAA), it is illegal for animal breeders and dealers to possess apes in Illinois, regardless of whether they possess a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) license (Class A and B licensees). On the other hand, circuses, zoos, and all other USDA-licensed exhibitors (Class C licensees) may still possess and publicly display apes as long as the animals are maintained in escape-proof enclosures. All apes imported for exhibition purposes must have an import permit issued by the Illinois Department of Agriculture and must be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection. (See Section 2(B)(i), above.)

Exhibitors are not required to register their animals with state or local officials, nor are they required to obtain a state permit to possess or display apes. In fact, aside from the Humane Care for Animals Act which prohibits outright abuse and gross neglect, the state does not regulate the possession or use of apes by exhibitors or set minimum standards for the care of those animals.

D. Possession of Great Apes by Sanctuaries

Although it is generally illegal to possess all species of Great Apes, the newly-enacted Illinois Dangerous Animal Act (DAA) exempts “animal refuge[s]” from the ban. There are no standards regarding the establishment of “animal refuge[s]” and no laws or regulations governing the possession of Great Apes by such entities. This means that any facility could label itself an “animal refuge” regardless of whether it operates for profit or maintains apes for commercial purposes. Also, because of the lack of legal standards for “animal refuge[s],” it is unclear how the state will distinguish between legitimate sanctuaries that are exempt from the state’s ban and exotic pet collectors who cannot legally obtain apes after January 1, 2011.

If an “animal refuge” plans to exhibit apes, it must obtain a state Department of Agriculture-issued import permit and certificate of veterinary inspection for any imported apes. If, on the other hand, an “animal refuge” is closed to the public and does not exhibit apes, the animals may be imported without those documents. As discussed in Section 2(B)(i) above, apes that have been exposed to, or infected with, certain infectious diseases cannot legally enter the state. As a result, sanctuaries that take in former laboratory chimpanzees may not be able to accept out-of-state animals that have been used in infectious disease research involving those listed diseases.  

Like exhibitors, animal refuges are not required to register their animals with state or local agencies, nor are they required to obtain a state permit to possess apes. Aside from the Humane Care for Animals Act, which prohibits outright abuse and gross neglect, the state does not regulate the possession of apes by animal refuges or set minimum standards for the care of those animals. Although the Federal Animal Welfare Act does regulate sanctuaries (or refuges) that are open to the public and sets minimum standards for the care of their animals, it does not apply to facilities that are not open to the public. As a result, there are no federal or state laws governing the housing and maintenance of apes possessed by sanctuaries (or refuges) that are closed to the public. Those apes may be legally maintained in complete isolation for life with nothing in their cages but food and water. In fact, there is no minimum size requirement for their cages, so as long as an ape can fit into the cage, it is legally sufficient.  

IV. Local Ordinances

Certain provisions within Illinois’s state statutes authorize counties and local municipalities to prohibit or regulate the local possession and use of Great Apes, regardless of whether a would-be possessor has secured a federal permit to keep those animals.[48] As a result, there are many local ordinances in Illinois that directly and indirectly govern the possession, use, and treatment of apes. The following list of ordinances is not exhaustive; rather, it is a partial list of local laws that demonstrates how some towns, cities, and counties in Illinois have addressed the issue.

·         Aurora 9-14: It is illegal to own, keep, or harbor any Great Ape within the city limits; those animals are classified as “dangerous animals” and are declared to be a public nuisance. The ban does not apply to properly zoned and constructed zoos, federally licensed exhibits, circuses, animal refuges, scientific research facilities, “other licensed institutions,” or “other enterprise.” (Ord. No. 094-18, § 1, 3-1-94; Ord. No. 094-97, § 3, 9-20-94; Ord. No. 095-87, § 1, 10-17-95; Ord. No. 000-32, § 1, 3-28-00; Ord. No. 007-98, § 1, 8-28-07); 9-20: It is illegal to hit, overwork, torture, torment, mutilate or kill any ape or to cruelly work any old, maimed, infirm, sick, or disabled ape. Also, all apes must be given proper food, water, air, sanitary shelter, protection from the weather, veterinary care, and sufficient space to stand in a upright position and lie down without touching the sides of the shelter structure. There is no exception from the city’s anti-cruelty ordinance for research facilities or other entities. (Ord. No. 094-18, § 1, 3-1-94; Ord. No. 095-87, § 3, 10-17-95; Ord. No. 000-32, § 1, 3-28-00; Ord. No. O02-99, § 8, 9-10-02; Ord. No. 007-98, § 1, 8-28-07)

·         Cicero 18-3: It is illegal to have, keep, maintain, or possess any chimpanzee, orangutan, gorilla, or other dangerous wild animal within the town limits. The ban does not apply to any “duly licensed” circus or animal exposition. (Ord. of 4-9-1917, ch. 36 , § 1403; Code 1958, § 6-4; Ord. No. 17-74, 2-25-1974; Ord. No. 259-03, § 3 , 1-13-2004)

·         Rolling Meadows 14-2: It is illegal to own or keep any animals that are “normally wild” or “dangerous to human life” within the city limits. (Code 1967, § 4-2)



[1] 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 585/1 (effective Jan. 1, 2011).

[2] “Person” means any individual, firm, association, partnership, corporation, or other legal entity, any public or private institution, the State of Illinois, or any municipal corporation or political subdivision of the State. 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 585/0.1.

[7] Animal” means every living creature, domestic or wild. 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/2.01.

[9] 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/3.01; 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/3.02 (this provision only applies to apes that are considered pets); 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/3.03.

[10] Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Dept. of Ag., Animal Care Resource Guide Policy #3 (July 17, 2007), available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/policy/policy3.pdf (last visited Nov. 21, 2010).

[12] Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, U.S. Dept. of Ag., Animal Care Resource Guide Policy #3 (July 17, 2007), available at http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/downloads/policy/policy3.pdf (last visited Nov. 21, 2010).

[16] Investigations must be made during normal business hours. 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/10.

[18] Id; 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/5.

[20] The impoundment procedures for apes are different depending on whether they are kept as pets or not. 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 70/3.04.

[22] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 25.45; See also,  Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 20.1 (defining “certificate of veterinary inspection”).

[23] 510 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 50/1 et seq.; Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 85.150.

[24] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 85.12; According to IDA, a “contagious disease” means a specific infectious disease which is readily transmitted from host to host by direct contact or by means of intermediate hosts. Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 20.1.

[25] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 85.85.

[26] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 85.12.

[28] See, 225 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 605/2 (defining those regulated entities).

[30] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 25.110.

[33] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 35.5.

[34] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 77 § 995.10 et seq.

[35] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 77 § 995.90.

[36] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 77 § 995.90.

[37] Id.

[38] Ill. Admin. Code tit. 77 § 995.160. Although DPH regulations state that DPH “shall” suspend or revoke grants, the regulations also provide for multiple hearings and informal resolution of conflicts between the agency and grantees. Therefore, it is unclear whether the agency actually does suspend or revoke grants when it determines that a grantee has violated a relevant law or rule.

[39] 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 585/0.1 et seq.; Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 25.110.

[41] 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 585/1; Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 25.110.

[42] 7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq.

[44] See, Ill. Admin. Code tit. 8 § 85.12 (listing prohibited infectious diseases).

[47] Id.

[48] 510  Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/24; 55 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/5-1005; Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/11-5-6.

 

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