Animal Legal and Historical Center
Great Apes and the Law: A complete resource for the legal status of the Great Apes within the United States
Michigan State University College of Law

General information

Federal and International

State

Specific State Information

  • Missouri
  • Florida
  • California
  • Texas
Share |

Detailed Discussion of Minnesota Great Ape Laws



Amy Breyer


Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
2012
Place of Publication: Michigan State University

Printable Version

I. Introduction

There is no direct law governing who may own a great ape in Minnesota. There are however, laws in various parts of the Minnesota code that have some limited application to great apes.  In 2005, a law was passed that limited who may possess a "regulated animal," including all nonhuman primates. This law states that it unlawful to possess a regulated animal without a USDA license, but there are numerous exceptions for nearly all types of possession and usage except roadside zoos. (M. S. A. § 346.155

While almost all species of apes are listed on the federal endangered species list, it unclear to what extent Minnesota’s endangered species law protects apes since the law does not specifically refer to apes or the federal list of species. To the extent that this law can be interpreted to apply to Great Apes, it also carves out a number of exceptions for usage, including zoos, educational and scientific purposes.

Great Apes are covered under the state's anti-cruelty ban, which protects all animals.  It does not carve out any exceptions.  Minnesota's Pet and Companion Animal Welfare Act could cover any Great Ape kept as a pet.  The section pertaining to "other animals" requires that these animals be "maintained in accordance with a general standard of care necessary for the species as determined by an expert opinion."  (M. S. A. § 346.42)

Finally, several provisions under the wildlife code may also apply to apes, which limit the commercial display and transportation of wild animals.

II. State Statutes – Minnesota

A. Ownership

Minnesota has no laws that even address – much less define or limit – who may own a Great Ape.  To the extent that possession is frequently an indicia of ownership, see next discussion.

B. Keeping/Possession

Possessing regulated animals   (M. S. A. § 346.155)

1. Which Great Apes Are Covered

 The definition of a “regulated animal” under M. S. A. § 346.155 includes, among other species, all nonhuman primates, including, but not limited to, lemurs, monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, marmosets, lorises, and tamarins.

2. What is Prohibited

Except as otherwise provided, it is unlawful for a person to possess a regulated animal.

3. What is Allowed

The statute does make several exceptions to the general ban.  Individuals who possessed a Great Ape prior to a certain date could keep the animal providing they complied with federal regulations, certain record-keeping and other requirements.  Those who also held a valid U.S.D.A. license to breed and acquire new animals for the purpose of maintaining and selling an inventory of animals were also exempt.  Finally, the statute also carves out the exemptions for accredited zoos and aquariums, wildlife sanctuaries, certain game farms, the Department of Natural Resources or DNR permit holders, licensed or accredited medical or research institutions, and federal Class B (dealers) and Class C (exhibitors) license holders.   It also exempts some other uses not relevant to this discussion.

4. Other Special Provisions of the Law

a. Housing: This statute does not deal with housing conditions.  Housing for certain types of usage is controlled by federal regulations.    [See 9 C.F.R. 3.75 – 3.92 (housing, feeding and related care for non-human primates); 42 C.F.R. 9.4 & 9.6 (relating to chimpanzees in sanctuaries); 64 Fed Reg 38145 (relating to psychological well-being of non-human primates held by dealers, exhibitors and research facilities)].

b. Enforcement: This law contains extensive seizure, notice, hearing and  penalty provisions for animals found allegedly in violation of the ban. (M. S. A. § 346.155 Subd. 3 - 6 and 10).

c. Valid license holders are permitted to transfer or sell the entire business, including any regulated animals, to another valid license holder.

d. Notably, although the law expressly contemplates the possibility of escape – as well as the possibility that a regulated animal may be dangerous (M. S. A. § 346.155  Subd.4(e) ) – it imposes only the barest mention of  liability to third parties.  The possessor is “liable for any costs incurred by any person, city, county or state agency resulting from the escape of the regulated animal…” (M. S. A. § 346.155  Subd.4(f))  This clearly encompasses costs such as the expense of overtime for animal control officers, but not necessarily emotional costs such as the trauma of being attacked.  A victim presumably could still sue for emotional injuries, assuming such suits are not blocked due to other limitations under common law.  Possessors of regulated animals are not held liable for costs where the escape was due to someone else’s criminal conduct or a natural event.  Subdivision 4(e) - which reads "A person who possesses a regulated animal shall prominently display a sign on the structure where the animal is housed indicating that a dangerous regulated animal is on the premises" -  is the one and only time the statute describes regulated animals as “dangerous.”

Minnesota's regulations also contain licensing and permitting  provisions.  (MN DNR 6212.1800 - 2300)  These requirements generally prohibit any activity (possession, transfer, sale, etc.,) related to an endangered species without a permit.  They specify who, how, and under what conditions a permit will issue.   The provisions also lay out reporting, inspection and renewal requirements.   They  also give the commissioner the right to immediately cancel a permit “upon determination that such cancellation is necessary for the conservation of the natural resources of this state, for the welfare of particular specimens, or is in the public interest.”

Protection of threatened and endangered species (M. S. A. § 84.0895)

1. Which Great Apes Are Covered

Minnesota’s endangered species law (M. S. A. § 84.0895) does not incorporate the federal Endangered Species Act by reference.  A species is listed as either threatened, endangered or “of special concern” according to certain state criteria, such as whether it is likely to go extinct or is at least very rare in its natural habitat within state borders.  Minnesota does not include Great Apes in its own list of endangered species.   (http://files.dnr.state.mn.us/natural_resources/ets/endlist.pdf.  Last visited 2/17/2012)

The statute does state that “[a] designation by the secretary of the interior that a species is threatened or endangered is a prima facie showing under this section.” (Subd.3(b))  However, it does not explain what happens in the absence of enough evidence to support the initial presumption that apes are endangered.  Typically, in the event of conflict between federal law (which expressly does consider Great Apes endangered) and state law (which does not), federal law will win.  Nonetheless, Minnesota’s failure to expressly acknowledge federal law appears to leave its state law open to lengthy and costly legal challenges.

2. What is Prohibited

A person may not take, import, transport, or sell any portion of an endangered species of wild animal or plant, or sell or possess with intent to sell an article made with any part of the skin, hide, or parts of an endangered species of wild animal or plant, except as provided in subdivisions 2 (dealing with plants) and 7.

3. What is Allowed

M. S. A. § 84.0895 Subdivision 7 lists four exceptions.

The commissioner may prescribe conditions for an act otherwise prohibited by subdivision 1 if:

  1. the act is for the purpose of zoological, educational, or scientific study;
  2. the act enhances the propagation or survival of the affected species;
  3. the act prevents injury to persons or property; or
  4. the social and economic benefits of the act outweigh the harm caused by it.

A person may capture and even destroy a member of an endangered species without a permit if needed to “avoid to avoid an immediate and demonstrable threat to human life or property,” however, that person may not do so under the third and fourth prongs of the exception list until all other alternatives have been exhausted. (Subd. (b) & (c))  It does not address under what conditions a person may destroy an endangered species member under the first two prongs.

4. Other Special Provisions of the Law

 a. Housing: This statute does not deal with housing conditions.  Housing for certain types of usage is controlled by federal regulations.    [See 9 C.F.R. 3.75 – 3.92 (housing, feeding and related care for non-human primates); 42 C.F.R. 9.4 & 9.6 (relating to chimpanzees in sanctuaries); 64 Fed Reg 38145 (relating to psychological well-being of non-human primates held by dealers, exhibitors and research facilities)].

b. Enforcement: Peace and conservation officers are authorized to execute search warrants and seize goods.  Seized goods must be held pending judicial proceedings.

c. Other than as described above, there is no general permitting or inspection process.

d. Conservation programs: The law also permits the secretary to establish management programs for endangered (and other) species, and requires the secretary to review its designated species list every three years  (Subd.3(c), 4-6)

Notably, the statute mandates that “[u]pon conviction, seized property is forfeited to the state and must be offered to a scientific or educational institution or destroyed.” (M. S. A. § 84.0895 Subd. 6)   By any objective measure, this result imposes more severe consequences on the ape than on the human responsible for violating the ban.

C. Prohibition Against Cruelty

Prevention of cruelty to animals (M. S. A. § 343.01 - 40)

1. Are Great Apes Covered?

Yes.  Most of the provisions in Minnesota’s anti-cruelty statute apply to “any animal.” 

2. Statement of Prohibited Acts

Minnesota prohibits torture, which it defines as “[n]o person shall overdrive, overload, torture, cruelly beat, neglect, or unjustifiably injure, maim, mutilate, or kill any animal, or cruelly work any animal when it is unfit for labor, whether it belongs to that person or to another person.”

It prohibits cruelty, defined broadly as “[n]o person shall willfully instigate or in any way further any act of cruelty to any animal or animals, or any act tending to produce cruelty to animals.”

It also prohibits depriving an animal of necessary food, water, shelter, sufficient exercise, clean air, abandoning an animal or insufficient cage size.  It specifically prohibits harm to a service animal.  It contains other bans as well not applicable to Great Apes.  

3. Statement of Duty to Provide Care

Minnesota’s anti-cruelty law does not provide a statement of positive duties of care.  It is only expressed as a negative, i.e., what conduct is banned.

Minnesota’s Pet and Companion Animal Welfare Act (M. S. A. Ch.346) may apply in instances where Great Apes are kept for that purpose.  The general provisions speak only to requirements for handling abandoned animals, exempting good Samaritans from liability, prohibiting cruel training, requiring adequate health care and mandating the reporting of suspected abuse by veterinarians.  (346.37)  Other provisions are limited to other types of animals, such as pet cats and dogs or rodents.  The only other relevant provision – which is both more to the point and more vague – states that any animal not otherwise covered “must be maintained in accordance with a general standard of care necessary for the species as determined by an expert opinion.” (346.42)

4. List of Exceptions

Unlike other states, Minnesota does not carve out exemptions for research or other activities.

5. Other:  seizure

The statute lays out a fairly extensive scheme for investigation, seizure, notice, hearing and penalties.  (343.22 - .235; also 343.21 Subd. 9 – 10)  There are no different requirements for seizing institutional animals.

D. Any other laws concerning Great Apes

Exhibition of wildlife (M. S. A. § 97A.041)

This provision bars people from keeping captive wildlife on display as a business, except by permit.  It lays out conditions for the permit, requires state officials to adopt reasonable care standards and briefly outlines an enforcement provision .  Importantly, however, this section “does not apply to a publicly owned zoo or wildlife exhibit, privately owned traveling zoo or circus, or a pet shop.”   In other words, it appears that any individual who complies with 346.155 above, could obtain a permit to display a privately owned Great Ape.

Arguably, Minnesota’s various wildlife laws and regulations could also apply to Great Apes because apes are not technically excluded from the state’s definition of “wild animal.” (M. S. A. § 97A.015 Subd.55; MN DNR 6244.0100 - 2000) However, as apes are defined as a "regulated" animal, wildlife laws and regulations are beyond the scope of this discussion.

III. How Different Categories of Possession Impact Different Activities

A. Private Ownership  (Not exhibitors)

Here is a checklist summary for this state regarding whether the following activities are allowed with respect to Great Apes:

Importation: Not covered, although impliedly allowed in order to fulfill right of one replacement [1]

Transportation: Not covered, although impliedly allowed in the course of other requirements, such as notifying authorities of address changes [2]

Ownership: Not covered, although see possession below.

Possession: Yes,  if had prior to January 1, 2005. [3]  Must  have come into compliance with federal Animal Welfare Act, amendments and regulations within 90 days of 1/1/2005, [4] as well as state registration requirements within 60 days. [5]  Must maintain health records and various other requirements. [6]

Sale: Not covered, although impliedly allowed under mandate that possessor “shall take steps to find a long-term replacement” if no longer able to care for the regulated animal [7] 

Breeding: No. [8]

Living Conditions: Not covered.  (Federal regulations would apply for licensed exhibitors.)

Liability: Possessor liable for any costs incurred due to escape.  Not liable if escape was due to someone else’s criminal conduct or natural events. Does not address any other scenarios. [9]

B. Dealers (Federal Class B License)

Must possess a valid U.S.D.A. license. Since the regulations state that Minnesota's Department. of Natural Resources will only issue permits for research or educational uses, it appears that state law does not otherwise impose any further duties or restrictions beyond what is required at the federal level.

Here is a checklist summary for this state regarding whether the following activities are allowed with respect to Great Apes:

Importation: Yes [10]

Transportation: Yes

Ownership: Yes

Possession: Must have held a valid U.S.D.A. license and been in compliance with federal AWA requirements on January 1, 2005. [11]  Must also have complied with state registration requirements, [12]  record-keeping and various other requirements. [13]

Sale: Yes

Breeding: Yes

Living Conditions: Not covered. (See fn6 and 8 for applicable federal regulations.)

Liability: Possessor liable for any costs incurred due to escape.  Not liable if escape was due to someone else’s criminal conduct or natural events. Does not address any other scenarios. [14]

Notably, the wording of the statute technically limits dealers to those who were already in existence on January 1, 2005.  It does not address the possibility of future dealers.

C.  Zoos and other Exhibitors (Federal Class C License)

Must be licensed under the Federal Animal Welfare Act.  There do not appear to be any limitations beyond those required for licenses.  This is because the general ban on possessing regulated animals expressly exempts “institutions accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.”   It also exempts exhibitors  “of regulated animals while transporting or as part of a circus, carnival, rodeo, or fair.”  It does not address other types of exhibitors or zoos lacking accreditation, if any exist. 

Minnesota does require a DNR permit to display captive wildlife in public for commercial purposes. [15]  However, that law explicitly “does not apply to a publicly owned zoo or wildlife exhibit, privately owned traveling zoo or circus, or a pet shop.”  [16]

Here is a checklist summary for this state regarding whether the following activities for users that do not require a DNR permit are allowed with respect to Great Apes:

Importation: Yes [17]

Transportation: Yes

Ownership: Yes

Possession: Yes

Sale: Yes

Breeding: Yes

Living Conditions:  Not covered. (See fn6 & 8 for applicable federal regulations.)

Liability: No

The requirement for a DNR permit appears pretty narrowly constrained to disfavored uses, such as “roadside zoos.”  For those exhibitors, the limitations on possessing regulated animals and exhibiting wildlife combine to prohibit pretty much any use other than possession and display.

D. Sanctuaries

To qualify as a wildlife sanctuary, the following criteria need to be satisfied.  A facility must be able to show that it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that: [18]

  1. operates a place of refuge where abused, neglected, unwanted, impounded, abandoned, orphaned, or displaced wildlife are provided care for their lifetime;
  2. does not conduct any commercial activity with respect to any animal of which the organization is an owner; and
  3. does not buy, sell, trade, auction, lease, loan, or breed any animal of which the organization is an owner, except as an integral part of the species survival plan of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

Like accredited zoos, wildlife sanctuaries are also exempt from the ban on possessing regulated animals.

Here is a checklist summary for this state regarding whether the following activities are allowed with respect to Great Apes:

Importation: Yes [19]

Transportation: Yes

Ownership: Yes

Possession: Yes

Sale: Yes

Breeding: Yes

Living Conditions: Not covered. (See fn6 and 8 for applicable federal regulations.)

Liability: No

E. Scientific Research

Must be licensed under the Federal Animal Welfare Act.  There do not appear to be any limitations beyond the federal licensing requirement.

Licensed or accredited research or medical institutions are also exempt from the ban on possessing regulated animals.  However, they do require a DNR permit. [20]

Here is a checklist summary for this state regarding whether the following activities are allowed with respect to Great Apes:

Importation: Yes [21]

Transportation: Yes

Ownership: Yes

Possession: Yes

Sale: Yes

Breeding: Yes

Living Conditions: Not covered (See fn6 and 8 for applicable federal regulations.)

Liability: No

IV. Conclusion

There are relatively few protections for Great Apes in Minnesota.  On the upside, the state's anti-cruelty law applies to all animals, and there is a law specifically protecting companion animals which applies to apes kept for that purpose.  On the other hand, the structure of the state's endangered species law - that it neither references apes nor the federal endangered list - makes it a particularly lacklustre protection.  Moreover, the state's affirmative decision to address the ownership and possession of Great Apes as a "regulated" animal, along with a number of exceptions and exemptions to the general ban against possessing such animals, is a window into how the state views these animals.  Minnesota does not appear to have any pending legislation addressing Great Apes at this time.


Top of Page
Share |