In Oregon, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons are all classified as “exotic” animals that pose health and safety risks to the community. On January 1, 2010, the state implemented a ban on the private possession of apes, but certain individuals are still allowed to keep pet apes with an Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) exotic animal permit. ODA has a variety of rules governing the housing and care of all primates that are held under an exotic animal permit. Also, it is illegal to breed any species of ape within the state. However, it is legal for federally licensed or registered facilities to possess apes for commercial exhibition and scientific research and no state permit is required. In addition to being exempt from the state’s exotic animal permit requirement, exhibitors and research facilities are exempt from ODA’s minimum standards of care for apes. Because those entities are regulated at the federal level, they must comply with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rules regarding the housing, maintenance, and care of apes. Importation of apes is closely regulated by the state. Anyone seeking to import an ape must obtain a permit from ODA. The agency has a variety of rules that are specifically geared toward the importation of primates and will not issue such permits to anyone that does not have approved facilities for the housing of those animals. Also, ODA has identified certain diseases that apes and other primates are known to carry and does not allow the importation of animals that are infected with those diseases.
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
Oregon has a variety of laws that govern the possession and care of apes in order to protect the public and to ensure the health and welfare of the animals. OR ST § 609.341 has a partial ban on the private possession of exotic animals, which includes all species of Great Apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons.) That ban essentially prohibits the acquisition of pet apes after January 1, 2010, but does not restrict the possession of apes by federally regulated facilities using apes for commercial and scientific purposes. The state’s general anti-cruelty laws generally prohibit the abuse and neglect of apes and the Oregon Department of Agriculture mandates that apes held under a state permit be housed and maintained according to the agency’s minimum standards. Finally, Oregon’s laws protect the public health by regulating the importation of primates and the public safety by making ape keepers liable for damages and injuries caused by their animals.
A. EXOTIC ANIMAL RESTRICTIONS
Under OR ST § 609.341, it is illegal to possess or breed apes in Oregon, but the possession ban does not apply to the following individuals and entities:
- Exhibitors and dealers that are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA);
- Research facilities that are registered with the USDA;
- Exotic animal protection organizations in temporary custody of apes (up to 30 days);
- Law enforcement agencies;
- Veterinary hospitals; and
- Permitted wildlife rehabilitation centers.
Although the private possession of apes is generally outlawed, OR ST § 609.341 and OR ST § 609.355 authorize two classes of individuals to keep apes for private, non-commercial purposes with an Oregon Department of Agriculture permit:
- Any person who owned an ape prior to January 1, 2010 may keep that ape for the remainder of the animal’s life.
- Certain individuals who possessed an ape under a U.S. Department of Agriculture license (exhibitors and animal dealers) or registration (researchers) may keep that animal after their federal licensure or registration expires.  An ape kept under this exemption may not be used for commercial purposes or scientific research.
ODA’s Animal Health Division is responsible for issuing exotic animal permits and for ensuring that permittees comply with all applicable license conditions and regulations. Permit applicants must provide the agency with the following information:
- The name and contact information of a veterinarian who will treat the ape(s);
- The applicant’s education, training, and experience relevant to the species of ape for which a permit is sought – at least 500 hours of hands-on experience are required; and
- A written plan for nutrition, health maintenance, and general welfare of the ape(s) that is approved by an “authoritative reference person.”
Exhibitors, animal dealers, and research facilities with current USDA licenses or registrations do not need a state permit to possess apes. If an ODA permit expires or becomes suspended or revoked, a permittee has 30 days to sell or relocate apes that were possessed under that permit. It is illegal to sell an ape to anyone in the state other than an entity that is exempt from the possession ban (see the list in the preceding paragraph). State law mandates that any person selling an ape (or other “exotic” animal) must provide prospective purchasers with ODA-approved informational materials regarding the care, husbandry, health, and nutritional needs of those animals.
B. MINIMUM STANDARDS OF CARE FOR GREAT APES
The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) regulates the conditions under which permitted apes are housed and maintained. The following standards apply only to individuals that possess apes under an ODA permit, namely pet owners and individuals keeping their apes after their U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) license or registration expires. (See Section II(A), above.)
- Outdoor Facilities
- Indoor Facilities (cages)
- Confinement of Apes
Although the state’s minimum standards do not apply to USDA-licensed exhibitors (circuses, zoos, wild animal parks, animal acts, etc.) and USDA-registered research facilities, those entities are regulated by the USDA and must comply with the federal standards of care under the Federal Animal Welfare Act.
C. LIABILITY FOR INJURIES OR DAMAGES CAUSED BY EXOTIC ANIMALS
Under Section 609.329 of Oregon’s Exotic Animals Law, the keeper of an ape or any other exotic animal is strictly liable (meaning he or she must pay regardless of whether the escape or attack was his/her fault) for:
- All costs associated with capturing an escaped ape;
- Injuries, damages, and losses caused by an escaped ape or that are incurred while trying to capture the animal; and
- Any injuries caused by an ape in the keeper’s custody.
D. IMPORTATION RULES FOR GREAT APES
Apes may be imported with an Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) import permit and a certificate of veterinary health which certifies that they are free from tuberculosis, Salmonella, Arizona, Shigella, and internal and external parasites. ODA issues primate import permits to facilities that have the necessary personnel, equipment, and physical facilities to:
- Maintain apes in a manner that promotes the animals' general health and well-being; and
- Ensure that the ape(s) will not come in contact with the general public.
In addition to the import permit and health certificate requirements, OR ADC 603-011-0381 requires all imported apes to be handled in compliance with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rules for the acquisition, housing, maintenance, and transportation of apes.Anyone who violates these import regulations is guilty of a Class A violation and may be assessed a fine of up to $720 per offense.
E. STATE GENERAL ANTI-CRUELTY LAWS
The state’s anti-cruelty statutes, which essentially outlaw animal abuse or neglect, generally apply to Great Apes in Oregon. Because all apes within the state live in mandatory confinement, the portions of the law which prohibit the confinement of those animals in unsanitary enclosures or without access to sufficient food and water, adequate space for exercise, or protection from the elements are particularly relevant. 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 section that prohibits any person from bruising, fracturing, puncturing, injuring, disfiguring, torturing, killing, or inflicting substantial pain upon an animal may protect apes from being physically abused in the course of training, to induce performances, or for any other reason.
Unless gross negligence can be shown, the state’s anti-cruelty laws do not apply to the following:
- Reasonable handling and training techniques;
- Lawful scientific research or teaching that involves the use of apes;
- Apes subject to good animal husbandry or veterinary practices; and
- Apes involved in rodeos or similar exhibitions.
Animal abuse/neglect is a Class B misdemeanor, Class A misdemeanor, or a Class C felony, depending on the severity of the crime; the defendant’s prior history of domestic violence, child abuse, or animal abuse; and whether the offense was committed in the presence of a child. Upon conviction, a defendant is prohibited from owning any animals (other than livestock or horses) for 5 or 15 years (depending on whether the crime was a misdemeanor or felony, respectively).
F. LOCAL LAWS
While the importation and possession of apes are regulated under both federal and state laws, county and municipal governments may also regulate apes within their geographical boundaries. Typically, those local ordinances either restrict the possession of apes, regulate activities involving apes, or set minimum standards for the housing and care of apes. The following examples demonstrate how some towns, cities, and counties in Oregon have addressed the issue:
Enterprise 6.04.010 et seq.: A local permit is required to keep any “wild animal.” (Ord. 409 § 1, 1983)
Lebanon 6.16.010 et seq.: It is illegal to keep Great Apes within the city limits; however a permit may be issued by the city if there is no objection by a person residing within three hundred feet of where any such animal would be kept. Also, such animals may be displayed temporarily, subject to the issuance of a local license. (Ord. 1987 § 3, 1986)
Ontario 6-2-19: It is illegal to possess, maintain, or keep any Great Ape within the city limits. The ban does not apply to licensed veterinarians or animal caretakers. (Ord. 2441 § 3 (part), 2000)
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 those purposes.
As of January 1, 2010, it is illegal to obtain, possess, breed, or sell an ape for use as a pet. Individuals who had pet apes prior to January 1, 2010 may keep those animals for the remainder of their lives with a valid Oregon Department of Agriculture permit. In order to qualify for this exemption, pet owners must have applied for a permit by January 1, 2011. Anyone that did not apply for a permit by that deadline is not eligible for the exemption. In order to qualify for a permit, applicants must have a minimum amount of experience and approved facilities for housing the animal(s). All permittees must comply with certain minimum standards for the care and housing of their apes. Anyone who violates those permit conditions may have his or her permit revoked in which case he (or she) has 30 days to sell, transfer, or export the ape(s).
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: Not covered.
Possession: Banned; Exemption for pets owned before January 1, 2010 with an ODA permit.
Living Conditions: Pet apes must be housed and maintained in compliance with ODA’s regulations governing the keeping of apes and other primates.
There are no state laws restricting the possession of apes by USDA licensed zoos or regulating the conditions under which those animals are kept. Any zoo importing apes must obtain an import permit from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the apes must be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection.
C. EXHIBITORS (USDA CLASS C LICENSEES)
Under the Federal Animal Welfare Act, circuses, wild animal parks, animal acts, and other exhibitors must be licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to possess apes. There are no state laws restricting the possession of apes by USDA licensed exhibitors or regulating the conditions under which those animals are kept. It is legal for exhibitors to import apes as long as they have an Oregon Department of Agriculture import permit and the animals are accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection.
Oregon has no laws governing the establishment of exotic animal sanctuaries, nor does it exempt such facilities from the state’s exotic animal ban. Sanctuaries that possessed apes prior to January 1, 2010 may keep those apes with a valid ODA permit, but they cannot legally acquire new apes.
E. SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH
It is legal to possess and sell apes for use in scientific research; however under OR ST § 609.341 it is illegal to breed apes for research or any other purpose. Any research facility importing apes must obtain an import permit from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the apes must be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection which confirms that the animals do not have certain listed diseases. The state does not regulate the use of apes by scientific research facilities and has no minimum standards for the housing and care of those animals.
F. POSSESSION OF RETIRED APES
Individuals that possessed apes for scientific research or commercial purposes (exhibitors or animal dealers) under a USDA registration or license may retain possession of those animals (for non-commercial use) when their federal registration or licensure expires. In order to lawfully keep those apes, the animals’ owners must apply for a state permit within 90 days from the date that their federal licensure or registration expires. Applicants must meet certain personal minimum qualifications and have approved facilities in order to qualify for a permit. All permittees must comply with ODA’s minimum standards for the care and housing of their apes. Anyone who violates those permit conditions may have his or her permit revoked in which case he or she has 30 days to sell, transfer, or export the ape(s).
Oregon has several statutes and regulations which are designed to protect both the public and captive apes, while at the same time minimizing the restrictions that it places on the keepers of exotic animals. In order to balance those somewhat conflicting policies, the state has banned the acquisition of pet apes after January 1, 2010 while allowing certain individuals to keep their animals with a permit. Also, although it is still legal to possess apes for commercial and scientific purposes, the state does not allow those animals to be bred for any reason. While the state does not regulate the possession of apes by commercial exhibitors and research facilities, it does heavily regulate the importation of those animals for health and safety reasons.
 Or. Rev. Stat. § 609.355. In order to qualify for this exemption, the ape’s owner must apply for an ODA permit within 90 days of the USDA license or registration’s expiration. Id.
 When issuing permits, ODA may include any conditions intended to ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the ape(s) and to avoid undue risk to the public. Or. Admin. R. 603-011-0705(7).
 9 C.F.R. § 1.1 – 3.142.
 Or. Rev. Stat. § 596.990; Or. Rev. Stat. § 153.058.