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Overview of Kentucky Great Ape Laws

Hanna Coate

Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
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Overview of Kentucky Great Ape Laws

In Kentucky, all chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons are classified as “inherently dangerous” exotic wildlife by the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (DFWR). Because of this, the possession of apes by the general public is prohibited, though certain zoos, circuses, research facilities and other entities are allowed to possess apes with DFWR authorization. There is an exception to the possession ban for those individuals who legally possessed apes in Kentucky prior to July 13, 2005. Also, because all species of apes - except for captive chimpanzees - are considered “endangered species” under both state and federal law, a DFWR permit is required to import, transport, possess, and sell those apes. Those permits are only issued for zoological, educational, or scientific purposes. Because they are not “endangered species,” captive chimpanzees may be imported and possessed for additional purposes by approved facilities.

The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources regulates the importation of all live wildlife, including apes. In addition to any other required state and federal permits, all apes that are imported into Kentucky must be accompanied by a DFWR import permit and a certificate of veterinary health. Animals that are diseased or possess “undesirable physical characteristics” may not be imported. Likewise, DFWR will not issue an import permit for any animal that the agency determines would constitute a menace to the state. Import permits for “endangered apes” (gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons, and wild chimpanzees) are only issued for zoological, educational, and scientific purposes. Zoos that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are exempt from the state’s wildlife permit requirements.

In general, there are no state minimum standards for the housing and care of apes, as long as they are maintained within an enclosure that is sufficient to prevent escape or injury of the animals and direct contact with the public. All exhibitors and research facilities with apes are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must comply with the federal standards of care for primates. In addition, Kentucky’s anti-cruelty statute protects apes from physical abuse and prohibits the confinement of those animals without access to adequate food, drink, space, and health care.

The state’s various wildlife permit requirements allow DFWR officials to track most captive apes entering Kentucky; however, there are gaps in the permit requirements for certain types of possessors (like AZA-accredited zoos), certain species of apes, and activities (such as breeding and sale of animals). As a result, the state does not have a comprehensive system of monitoring all of the apes in Kentucky and it is difficult to gage the actual number of those animals that currently reside within the state.


For an in-depth legal analysis of Kentucky's laws, see the Detailed Discussion.

Table of Kentucky's Great Ape Laws

Table of Kentucky's Great Ape Regulations

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