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Detailed Discussion of New York 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 to Legal Control Over Great Apes in New York

In New York, it is illegal to import, possess, or sell gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons for use as pets. Because apes are classified as “wild animals” under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law, they can only be imported, possessed, and sold by certain listed entities, including wildlife sanctuaries, educational institutions, and federally licensed exhibitors. The use of Great Apes by those entities is heavily regulated because of their status as endangered or threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. In addition to any necessary federal permits or licenses, a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) license is required to import, export, transport, possess, or sell any ape within the state. DEC limits the purposes for which licenses are issued and they are not valid in any county or municipality that has banned the possession of apes. The state’s Department of Health also regulates the use of apes for scientific research, and the state’s anti-cruelty laws protect apes that are kept for all other purposes.

Political subdivisions of the state, including counties, cities, and towns also regulate the possession or use of apes within their geographical boundaries. Although there are fairly extensive state-level laws relating to apes, many cities and counties in New York 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 addition to the state’s pet ape ban, New York has several unique laws governing the possession of apes, some of which protect the public from the safety threats posed by those animals. In order to protect police, fire fighters, and emergency medical personnel from apes and other captive wild animals, certain owners are required to report their apes to local officials so that emergency responders are aware of the locations of all dangerous animals within their jurisdictions. Also, state law imposes criminal liability on an ape owner if the animal injures another person and the owner failed to exercise due care to prevent the attack. The state’s anti-cruelty laws protect most apes from outright abuse and neglect and allow the seizure of apes that have been kept in unhealthy or unsanitary conditions for more than 12 hours. Finally, New York has an interesting law which conditionally authorizes licensed physicians to treat apes that are living in American Zoo and Aquarium Association-accredited zoos.

i. Ban on Pet Apes

New York’s Environmental Conservation Law makes it illegal for any person to import, possess, sell, or otherwise transfer any species of ape for use as a pet.[1] Any person who possessed an ape as a pet[2] on January 1, 2005 may keep that animal for the remainder of the animal’s life if the owner meets certain conditions and legal obligations. Any person who has been convicted of animal cruelty cannot qualify for this exemption.[3] Otherwise, in order to lawfully retain possession of a pet ape, the animal’s owner must have applied for a license from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) by July 1, 2005;[4] any person that did not meet that deadline cannot qualify for this exemption. In addition to other requirements, each applicant for licensure must submit proof to DEC that he or she has a veterinarian who has agreed to treat the ape(s).[5]  State-issued licenses are not valid in any city or county that has banned the possession of apes and in order to ensure that those animals are not kept in violation of local ordinances, DEC is required to forward a copy of each license to the city, town, or village in which a pet ape resides.[6] All licensees are required to comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws and may not breed, sell, or exchange their apes;[7] chain the animals outside; or take them to any public park or retail or commercial establishment.[8] If a person’s license to keep a pet ape is denied or revoked, he or she must surrender the ape to the Department of Environmental Conservation, local law enforcement or animal control agencies, or a society for the protection of animals, or humanely euthanize the animal.[9]

All state and local law enforcement officers and environmental conservation officers (ECOs) are required[10] to enforce the state’s pet ape ban and may seize illegally possessed apes.[11] ECOs may search any private property (except a dwelling) without a search warrant (and with force of necessary) if they have cause to believe that the aforementioned laws have been violated.[12]  Employees of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals may also enforce the pet ape ban and may seize illegally possessed apes with a warrant.[13] Any person who imports, possesses, breeds, sells, or transfers an ape in violation of the pet ape ban is subject to a fine of up to $500 dollars for the first offense and $1,000 dollars for each subsequent offense,[14] and upon conviction automatically forfeits the ape to the state.[15] Apes that are seized or surrendered under this law must be placed in a zoo or wildlife sanctuary or humanely euthanized.[16]

ii. Mandatory Reporting of Apes

In order to protect fire, police, and ambulance personnel from the dangers posed by captive apes, state law requires anyone in possession of an ape to report the presence of that animal to the clerk of the city, town, or village in which the animal resides.[17] The report must be filed by April 1st every year[18] and must list all of the physical locations where the ape may be kept.[19] The clerk must then notify all local police, fire, and emergency medical service departments of the presence of that animal.[20] Any person who fails to report the presence of an ape may be fined up to $250 dollars for the first offense and $1,000 dollars for each subsequent offense. Zoos and other U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed exhibitors are exempt from the reporting requirement.[21]

iii. Anti-Cruelty Statutes

The state’s anti-cruelty statutes,[22] which prohibit acts that inflict suffering or unjustifiable injuries on animals, generally apply to Great Apes in New York.[23] Because all captive apes are necessarily dependant on their keepers, the laws requiring owners to provide their animals with necessary food and drink are particularly relevant.[24] 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 overdriving, torturing, cruelly beating, or unjustifiably injuring, maiming, or killing 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.[25] The anti-cruelty laws also protect apes while they are being transported for travelling shows, or for any other purpose. It is illegal to transport those animals in a “cruel or inhumane” manner which causes unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death.[26]

All state and local law enforcement officers MUST enforce the state’s anti-cruelty laws by ticketing, summoning, or arresting any person violating those laws.[27] Also, agents or officers of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals have the same enforcement authority, but they are not required to enforce the anti-cruelty laws as police officers are.[28] If an ape has been confined in crowded, unhealthy, or unsanitary conditions or been deprived of food, water, or other necessary care for more than 12 hours, any enforcement agent can obtain a warrant to enter private property and confiscate the animal.[29] If an ape is seized, the animal’s owner may be required to post a security to cover the costs of caring for the animal pending the outcome of any criminal case against the owner. If he or she fails to post a court-ordered security, the animal may be forfeited to the impounding agency regardless of the outcome of any criminal charges against the ape’s owner.[30] A violation of the state’s anti-cruelty laws is a misdemeanor[31] or felony,[32] depending on the severity of the crime. In addition to fines, imprisonment, and forfeiture of the animal victim(s), a conviction may also result in an injunction prohibiting future acts of animal cruelty or neglect.[33]

iv. Criminal Liability for Ape Attacks

New York law makes it a crime for any person who owns or possesses an ape (or any other wild animal capable of injuring a human) to fail to “exercise due care” in preventing the animal from attacking a person. Under this law, an owner or possessor can be prosecuted even if an ape had not previously attacked or displayed any signs of viciousness. Any person who violates this law is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined up to $500 dollars, imprisoned up to one year, or both.[34] 

v. Physicians Authorized to Treat Apes

Under the state’s Veterinary Medicine laws, licensed physicians are authorized to treat all species of Great Apes that are living in American Zoo and Aquarium Association-accredited zoos if those doctors specialize in a particular area of medicine for which a veterinary specialist is not available and the doctors treat the apes under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.[35]

B. State Agencies and Regulations

In New York, there are three state agencies that have varying degrees of authority to regulate the import, possession, use, or treatment of apes within the state. The Department of Environmental Conservation is responsible for protecting all wildlife within the state, including captive apes, and for enforcing the state’s Environmental Conservation Law which restricts the possession of endangered or threatened species. The Department of Health regulates all laboratories within the state and administers a special program to monitor the use of apes and other live animals for scientific research. The Department of Agriculture and Markets (Division of Animal Industries) regulates various activities involving animals in order to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. That agency’s role in regulating apes is quite limited; in fact, it only regulates the admission of apes to state or county fairs.

i. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is responsible for regulating the import, possession, and use of endangered and threatened species within the state.[36] Because all species of apes are classified as endangered or threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act,[37] they are also regulated under state law.[38] New York’s Environmental Conservation Law makes it is illegal to import, export, transport, possess, or sell any endangered or threatened species, including Great Apes, without a license issued by the DEC.[39] Under that law and DEC regulations, it is also illegal to “take” or kill any ape without a DEC permit.[40]

DEC has the authority to restrict the purposes for which an endangered/threatened species license will be issued and to set the conditions of that licensure.[41] The agency may, in its discretion, issue a license to import, possess, sell, or transport[42] apes for exhibition,[43] educational,[44] zoological,[45] propagation,[46] or scientific purposes.[47] However, pursuant to the Environmental Conservation Law, only the following types of individuals or facilities may possess apes for those purposes:

a. Zoos that are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA);[48]

b. Exhibitors that are licensed by the USDA under the AWA[49] and that have demonstrated to DEC that the apes are used solely for exhibition to the public for profit;

c. Research facilities that are “licensed” by the USDA under the AWA;[50] (The USDA does not issue licenses to research facilities; therefore, there are no USDA “licensed” research facilities in New York.)

d. Licensed veterinarians, humane societies, animals shelters, and other animal welfare organizations in temporary possession of the animals;

e. State universities, private colleges or universities, or state agencies working with wild animals;

f. State-licensed wildlife rehabilitators who are treating sick or injured animals;

g. A person in temporary custody of an ape who is transporting the animal to an authorized facility for care or treatment (such as a humane society or veterinarian);

h. Wildlife sanctuaries;[51] and

i. A non-resident who is travelling through the state for no more than 10 days.[52]

Exotic pet owners, wild animal collectors, and animal dealers are not allowed to possess apes under that law and are not eligible for DEC licensure. When the agency issues an endangered/threatened species license authorizing the importation, possession, sale, or transportation of an ape, the license includes conditions which vary depending on the purpose for which an ape is possessed. At a minimum, all licenses include the conditions that apes may not be kept as pets and public contact with those animals is prohibited.[53] DEC may revoke a license at any time (and for as long as the department deems appropriate) if a licensee violates the conditions of a license, DEC regulations, or any relevant state or federal laws.[54] When a license is revoked, the licensee must comply with DEC’s written directions for the placement or relocation of any apes that were possessed under the revoked license.[55]

The Department of Environmental Conservation has dedicated law enforcement officers, called “environmental conservation officers,” who are employed by the agency to enforce the state’s wildlife laws. All state and local law enforcement officers and environmental conservation officers (ECOs) are required[56] to enforce the state’s endangered species laws and they may seize any ape that is imported, possessed, sold, or transported without a valid DEC-issued license.[57] ECOs have the authority to search any private property (except a private residence) without a search warrant (and with force of necessary) when they have cause to believe that an ape has been illegally imported, possessed, sold, or transported.[58]  As a condition of licensure, all DEC licensees must allow ECOs and other agency employees to inspect their property for compliance with all license conditions and to take whatever action may be necessary to control threats to human or animal health and welfare that are created by the licensed activity.[59] Any person who imports, possesses, sells, takes, or transports an ape in violation of the state’s endangered species laws is guilty of a violation punishable by a $250 dollar fine, 15 days imprisonment, or both.[60]  Upon conviction, a violator automatically forfeits the ape(s) to the state[61] and may be assessed a civil penalty of up to $2,000 for the violation itself and an additional $350 dollar penalty for each ape involved in the violation.[62]

ii. New York State Department of Health

The Department of Health (NYDH) is responsible for regulating all facilities that conduct research experiments on apes (and other live animals) within New York.[63] It is a crime for any laboratory or institution to perform experiments on apes without first being approved by NYDH. In order to become approved,[64] each facility must submit an application to NYDH, and once approved must resubmit an application annually.[65]

All approved facilities are required to comply with NYDH regulations governing the housing and care of laboratory apes. Each facility must designate an individual who is responsible for the care of the apes (and other animals) and create an animal care committee that reviews research proposals to ensure that (in the opinion of the committee) they are scientifically justified and involve proper procedures.[66] Researchers are required to give “careful consideration” to the “humane treatment” of apes and to give the animals wholesome food “in sufficient quantity” for the type of ape and scientific tests involved.[67] The animals’ cages must be clean; well lighted and ventilated; maintained at a “proper” temperature; and large enough for each animal to stand, sit, and lie in a normal position and turn around “with ease.”[68] Apes used in painful experiments must be given anesthesia, tranquilizers, and/or pain-killers, unless doing so would defeat the purpose of an experiment.[69] If apes are killed, the facility must use one of NYDH’s approved methods for killing the animals.[70]

NYDH officers inspect all approved laboratories to ensure compliance with the agency’s regulations.[71] Approval may be revoked at any time for a facility’s non-compliance with those regulations, in which case all experiments involving apes must stop.[72] Any researcher who uses an ape in an experiment without agency approval is guilty of a misdemeanor.[73]

iii. New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets

The Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM) Division of Animal Industries regulates the admission of apes to state and county fairs. According to DAM regulations, any ape that is taken to a state or county fair must be permanently identified (tattoo, eartag, etc.) and accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection which certifies that the animal has tested negative for tuberculosis within the past 12 months.[74] Animals that are not in compliance with those requirements or that have symptoms of any communicable disease may be denied admission to a fair.[75] Any person who brings an ape into a state or county fair in violation of these rules may be fined up to $400 dollars for the first offense and up to $800 for each subsequent offense.[76]

III. Analysis of State Laws as Applied to Specific Uses

The statutes and regulations that are discussed in Section II all govern certain aspects of the import, possession, use, or treatment of captive apes that are possessed for various purposes. 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

It is illegal to import, possess, sell, or otherwise transfer any ape for use as a pet in New York. This ban doesn’t simply prohibit the possession of apes as pets, but it also bans the breeding and sale of those animals by private individuals, commercial dealers, and pet shops or exotic animal auctions. As discussed in Section II(A)(i) above, the Environmental Conservation Law includes a grandfather clause which allows individuals who possessed a pet ape on January 1, 2005 to keep that ape for the remainder of the animal’s life if they meet certain conditions and legal obligations. Any person who has been convicted of animal cruelty cannot qualify for this exemption.  Otherwise, in order to lawfully retain possession of a pet ape, the animal’s owner must have applied for a license from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) by July 1, 2005. Licenses must be renewed biennially and in order to qualify for licensure, the ape’s owner must have a veterinarian who has agreed to treat the animal. Licensed pet ape owners may not breed, sell, or exchange their apes and may not keep the animals in any county or municipality that prohibits the possession of such animals. In addition to possessing a DEC-issued license, all pet ape owners are required to report the presence of their ape(s) to the clerk of the city, town, or village in which the ape(s) reside (see Section II(A)(ii), above).

Licensed pet ape owners must comply with a variety of laws regarding the treatment of the animals and their exposure to the public. It is illegal to chain or tether pet apes outside or to take them to public parks or retail or commercial establishments. Although the Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA)[77] does not apply to pet owners, state law requires all licensed pet ape owners to comply with AWA’s minimum standards of care for the feeding, housing, transportation, physical treatment, veterinary care, and psychological well-being of apes.[78] Also, the state’s anti-cruelty laws protect pet apes from abuse and neglect and authorize the seizure (pursuant to a warrant) of any pet ape that has been kept in crowded, unhealthy, or unsanitary conditions or deprived of food, water, or other necessary care for more than 12 hours (see Section II(A)(iii), above).

Although ape owners are generally liable for civil damages if their ape injures a person, New York also makes those owners and possessors criminally liable. Under state law, if a pet ape attacks and injures a person, the ape’s owner/possessor may be charged with a crime if he or she failed to “exercise due care” to protect the victim from the attack (see Section II(A)(iv), above).

B. Possession of Great Apes for Biomedical Research

Because all species of apes are listed as either endangered (gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, gibbons, and wild chimpanzees) or threatened (captive chimpanzees) under the Federal Endangered Species Act,[79] the possession and use of those animals is regulated under state law. According to the state’s Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), it is illegal to import, possess, sell, or transport apes unless a facility is exempt from the state’s ape ban and has a Department of Environmental Conservation-issued license authorizing the possession and use of apes. According to the ECL, research laboratories that are “licensed” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Federal Animal Welfare Act[80] are exempt from the ape ban,[81] as are state universities and private colleges or universities (collectively, “research facilities”). Those research facilities may keep and use apes for scientific research if they are DEC licensed and operate in compliance with the terms of their license, DEC regulations, and all other relevant state and federal laws. DEC agents (or “conservation officers”) may inspect research facilities and may revoke a license at any time for non-compliance with the relevant legal requirements. If an institution’s license is revoked, it must comply with DEC’s written instructions on the placement or relocation of the apes (see Section II(B)(i), above).

In addition to obtaining a Department of Environmental Conservation license, all research facilities must become “approved” by the state’s Department of Health (NYDH) in order to use apes and other live animals for scientific research. As discussed in Section II(B)(ii), an institution’s approval must be renewed annually and is contingent upon the facility’s compliance with NYDH rules for the housing and care of laboratory apes. NYDH agents may inspect any research facility for compliance with the agency’s regulations. Approval may be revoked at any time for non-compliance, in which case all experiments involving apes (or other live animals) must immediately stop. Any researcher who uses an ape in an experiment without agency approval is guilty of a misdemeanor.[82]

The state’s anti-cruelty laws (discussed in Section II(A)(iii), above) do not protect apes that are used in “properly conducted scientific tests, experiments, or investigations” by institutions that are approved by the state’s Department of Health. However, researchers that conduct experiments without agency approval may be prosecuted for abuse or neglect of laboratory animals. Also, under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law, it is illegal for anyone to “take” or kill any ape without a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Conservation (see Section II(B)(i), above). So, any research facility that wishes to use an ape in an experiment that will result in the animal’s death must first obtain a permit from DEC authorizing the killing of that animal.

In addition to complying with the state’s license, permit, and approval requirements all facilities housing apes for research purposes are required to report the presence of those animals to the clerk of the city, town, or village in which the apes reside. (See Section II(A)(ii), above.)

Under state law, officials at an educational institution may be held criminally liable if one of the research animals injures a laboratory worker or anyone else, and the owner/possessor of the animal failed to exercise due care to prevent the injuries. (See Section II(A)(iv), above.)

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. The state’s Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) outlaws the importation, possession, or sale of apes by animal dealers. As discussed in Section II(B)(i) above, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) licensed zoos are exempt from ECL’s ape ban. Other USDA licensed exhibitors may also be exempt if they can prove to the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that the apes are used solely for exhibition to the public for profit. This requirement prevents unscrupulous exotic pet owners from becoming USDA licensed exhibitors to circumvent the state’s ban on pet apes. 

Because all species of apes are listed as endangered or threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act,[83] state law makes it illegal to import, export, transport, possess, or sell those animals without a DEC license. (See Section II(B)(i), above.) The agency may issue a license to use apes for exhibition, educational, or zoological purposes. Each license includes certain conditions which vary depending on the purpose for which an ape is possessed. At a minimum, all licenses include a condition that prohibits public contact with the animals. Any exhibitor who violates the license conditions, DEC regulations, or any relevant state or federal law (including the Federal Animal Welfare Act[84]) may have his license revoked at any time. When a license is revoked, the exhibitor must comply with DEC’s written directions for the placement or relocation of the apes that were possessed under the revoked license. Also, if an exhibitor’s USDA license is suspended or revoked, he is no longer exempt from the state’s ban on the importation, possession, or sale of apes and must make immediate arrangements with DEC to divest himself of those animals.

Any exhibitors displaying an ape at a county or state fair must comply with the Department of Agriculture and Markets requirements for admittance of apes into fairs. As discussed in Section II(B)(iii) above, any ape that is taken to a state or county fair must be healthy, permanently identified (tattoo, eartag, etc.), and accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection which certifies that the animal has tested negative for tuberculosis within the past 12 months. Exhibitors may be fined for bringing apes that are not in compliance with those requirements to any state or county fair. 

The state’s anti-cruelty laws protect all apes that are kept for exhibition purposes. It is illegal for an exhibitor to cruelly beat or unjustifiably injure an ape or to keep the animal in unsanitary or unhealthy conditions. Also, state law protects apes while they are being transported for travelling shows, or for any other purpose. It is illegal to transport an ape in a “cruel or inhumane” manner which causes unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death. (See Section II(A)(iii), above.)

As with all other owners/possessors of apes, exhibitors could be held criminally liable if one of the animals injures any person and the owner/possessor of the animal failed to exercise due care to prevent the injuries. (See Section II(A)(iv), above.)

D. Possession of Great Apes by Sanctuaries

New York’s Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) defines a “wildlife sanctuary” as a nonprofit refuge that provides lifetime care to unwanted wild animals and where the animals are not bred, sold, traded, loaned out, or used for any entertainment or commercial purpose except for exhibition. Qualified wildlife sanctuaries may import and possess apes; however, because of their status as endangered/threatened species, a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) license is required. As a condition of licensure, all sanctuaries are prohibited from allowing public contact with the animals. Any sanctuary that violates that rule, other license conditions, DEC regulations, or relevant state or federal laws (including the Federal Animal Welfare Act[85]) may have their license revoked at any time. In the event that a license is revoked, the sanctuary must comply with DEC’s written instructions on the placement or relocation of the sanctuary’s apes. (See Section II(B)(i), above).

Certain sanctuaries are required to comply with the state’s mandatory local reporting requirement for the possession of apes. (See Section II(A)(ii), above.) Whether or not a sanctuary is subject to that requirement depends on whether the facility is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Under the Federal Animal Welfare Act[86], sanctuaries that exhibit or display apes must have a USDA license, and those facilities are exempt from the state’s local reporting requirement. Sanctuaries that are closed to the public do not need a USDA license and under state law those facilities must report the presence of their apes to the clerk of the city, town, or village in which the animals reside. 

The state’s anti-cruelty laws, discussed in Section II(A)(iii) above, protect all apes that are kept in sanctuaries from abuse and neglect. Also, sanctuary owners may be subject to criminal prosecution if one of their apes injures any person and the owner(s) failed to exercise due care to prevent the attack. (See Section II(A)(iv), above.)

IV. Local Ordinances

Certain provisions within New York’s state statutes authorize counties and local municipalities to prohibit or regulate the possession and use of Great Apes, regardless of whether a would-be possessor has secured a state or federal license to keep those animals.[87] One interesting state law allows municipalities to pass ordinances restricting traveling circuses, shows, and exhibitions while it prohibits restrictions on other types of traveling businesses.[88] 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 New York have addressed the possession of apes within their jurisdictions.

  • Long Beach 9-106.1: No premises within the city limits may be used to harbor monkeys or any “dangerous” or “obnoxious” animals. (Ord. No. 1679/88, § 1, 9-6-88; Ord. No. 1708/89, § 1, 10-17-89; Ord. No. 1795/92, § 2, 12-1-92; Ord. No. 1825/94, § 2, 11-1-94)
  • New York City 24 §161.01: It is illegal to possess, harbor, sell, or give away any Great Ape within the city limits. The ban does not apply to: certain zoos, laboratories, circuses, or to certain other exhibitors who have obtained a permit from the Commissioner.
  • Rochester 30-25 et seq.: It is illegal to import, own, possess, harbor, or keep any Great Ape within the city limits. The ban does not apply to: the Seneca Park Zoo, Animal Services, educational institutions, circuses, and Animal Services-approved wild animal exhibitors.


[1] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512; See also, N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0103 (defining “wild animal” as any nonhuman primate).

[2] “Pet” means an animal kept for the primary purpose of companionship that is normally maintained in or near the household of the owner or person who cares for such domesticated animal. N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0103.

[3] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(3)(a).

[4] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(3)(b).

[5] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(4)(a)(4).

[6] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(4).

[7] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(6).

[8] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(4)(a).

[9] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(7).

[10] Any officer who fails to perform his or her duty to enforce these laws is guilty of a violation, punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 days, or a fine of up to $250 dollars, or both. N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0923.

[11] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(8).

[12] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0525.

[13] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(8).

[14] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512.

[15] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0919; N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0909(2).

[16] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(8).

[17] N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 209-cc; N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 19 § 820.1 et seq.

[18] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 19 § 820.2.

[19] N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 209-cc; N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 19 § 820.3.

[20] N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 209-cc; N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 19 § 820.3.

[21] N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 209-cc; N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 19 § 820.3.

[22] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 350 et seq.

[23] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353; But see discussion infra Section III(B) (discussing the inapplicability of the state’s anti-cruelty laws to apes used for “properly conducted” scientific research in institutions that are approved by the state’s commissioner of health.).

[24] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353.

[25] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353; N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a.

[26] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 359; See also, N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 350 (defining “torture” or “cruelty” as used in N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 359).

[27] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 371.

[28] Id.

[29] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 373.

[30] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 373(6).

[31] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353; N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 359.

[32] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353-a.

[33] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 38.

[34] N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 370.

[35] N.Y. Educ. Law § 6705.

[36] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0535.

[38] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 182.2.

[39] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0535; N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 182.8.

[40] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0535; N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 182.8.

[41] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 182.7.

[42] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 182.7.

[43]Exhibition” means regular public display or showing of fish, wildlife or parts thereof or products made therefrom where the display itself is the chief object. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 175.2(b).

[44]Educational” means possession and/or exhibition in order to teach or instruct about the characteristics, ecological role or conservation needs of a wildlife species, population or community. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 175.2(a).

[45]Zoological” means possession of live wildlife for use in: (1) developing husbandry techniques for maintaining self-sustaining captive populations; (2) establishment and maintenance of captive populations to supply specimens to others for scientific or educational purposes; or (3) preservation of a gene pool for possible reintroduction to the wild. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 175.2(c).

[46]Propagation” means production of selected species by application of husbandry techniques in a controlled environment for commercial or other authorized purposes. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 175.2(d).

[47]Scientific” means use of wildlife or parts thereof by a scientific institution, clinic, laboratory or individual researcher to expand scientific knowledge or to gain knowledge of a wildlife species, population or community. Captive-bred populations may be established and maintained as part of a scientific endeavor. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 175.2(e).

[51] “Wildlife sanctuary” means an organization as described in section 170(b)(1)(A)(vi) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 [FN1] and that is in compliance with all applicable provisions of the Animal Welfare Act, and operates a place of refuge where abused, neglected, unwanted, impounded, abandoned, orphaned, or displaced wild animals are provided care for their lifetime or rehabilitated and released back to their natural habitat, and, with respect to any animal owned by the organization, does not: (a.) use the animal for any type of entertainment, recreational or commercial purpose except for the purpose of exhibition as defined by the department; (b.) sell, trade, lend or barter the animal or the animal's body parts; or (c.) breed the animal. N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0103(32).

[52] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0511.

[53] E-mail from Patrick P. Martin, Special Licenses Unit, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (Oct. 5, 2010) (on file with the author).

[54] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 175.5(a).

[55] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 175.5(h).

[56] Any officer who fails to perform his or her duty to enforce these laws is guilty of a violation, punishable by imprisonment for up to 15 days, or a fine of up to $250 dollars, or both. N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0923.

[57] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0511.

[58] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0525.

[59] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 6 § 175.6.

[60] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0923.

[61] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0919; N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0909(2).

[62] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 71-0925(13).

[63] N.Y. Pub Health Law § 504.

[64] See, N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 10 § 55-1.1 (purposes for which approval may be granted).

[65] N.Y. Pub Health Law § 504(4).

[66] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 10 § 55-1.4.

[67] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 10 § 55-1.5.

[68] In determining whether a facility is in compliance with the agency’s requirements for adequate sanitation, ventilation, food, temperature and space, NYDH officials will use the standards in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, DHEW Publications No. (NIH) 78-23, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 10 § 55-1.6.

[69] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 10 § 55-1.5(c).

[70] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 10 § 55-1.5(d,e).

[71] N.Y. Pub Health Law § 504(3).

[72] N.Y. Pub Health Law § 504(4)(b).

[73] N.Y. Pub Health Law § 504(5).

[74] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 1 § 351.11; N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 1 § 351.5; N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 1 § 351.1.

[75] N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 1 § 351.3.

[76] Every day that a violation continues constitutes a separate offense. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 40.

[78] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(4)(a)(6).

[81] The USDA does not actually “license” research facilities; instead, under the AWA research facilities must register with the USDA.

[82] N.Y. Pub Health Law § 504(5).

[87] N.Y. Envtl. Conserv. Law § 11-0512(10) .

[88] N.Y. Gen. Mun. Law § 80.

 

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