The state of Ohio controls possession and ownership of great apes under a new dangerous wild animal law (OH ST § 935.01 et seq.). In the law, nonhuman primates are specifically defined as a “dangerous wild animal,” meaning “no person shall acquire, buy, sell, trade, or transfer possession or ownership” of the animal except if under a specific exception (OH ST § 935.02). This prohibition applies primarily to private ownership. There is a list of commercial uses that are allowed, including zoos, circuses, research facilities, and wildlife sanctuaries, among other exceptions (OH ST § 935.03).
Like other states, Ohio does not define great apes as “endangered” under its own endangered species law (OH ST § 1531.01). It does, however, cover them by reference to the federal endangered species list. Ohio prohibits the possession, transport, taking, buying, and selling of an endangered or threatened animal species (OH ST § 1531.11).
Finally, great apes are covered under the state’s anti-cruelty law (OH ST §§ 959.13, 959.99). Interestingly, the law’s exemptions only apply to companion animals rather than the general animal cruelty sections.
II. How Different Uses of Great Apes are Affected by Law
While Ohio’s law appears to prohibit most uses of great apes, different activities are addressed by various state laws. The law regulates the possession of great apes depending on whether a person possesses an ape privately (e.g., as a “pet”), at a zoo or circus, as a sanctuary, or for scientific research purposes. This section examines the laws by those uses.
A. Private Possession of Great Apes
A new Ohio law does not allow for possession of dangerous wild animals on or after January 1, 2014, unless a person is authorized under a valid wildlife shelter or propagation permit or other exception (OH ST § 935.02). Section 935.01 defines dangerous wild animals to include nonhuman primates other than lemurs, as well as a specified list of nonhuman primates. The law states that no person shall acquire, buy, sell, trade, or transfer possession or ownership of a dangerous wild animal on or after the effective date of this section (OH ST § 935.02). There is a grandfather provision that allows current possessors of a dangerous wild animal to keep the animal provided they follow certain conditions (OH ST § 935.04). Owners also must comply with the care and housing requirements issued by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (OH ST § 935.12).
B. Possession by Zoo or Circus
Ohio’s new dangerous wild animal law allows for the ownership and possession of great apes by zoos and circuses under its exemptions (OH ST § 935.03(B)(1)). In order to qualify for this exception, a zoo must be an accredited member of the zoological association of America and be licensed by the United States department of agriculture under the federal animal welfare act (OH ST § 935.03(B)(1)). Although exempt from most requirements, zoos and circuses are required to register all dangerous wild animals with the director of agriculture not more than 60 days after the effective date of the section (OH ST § 935.04).
Ohio’s new dangerous wild animal law also exempts sanctuaries from its provisions (OH ST §§ 935.03). This exception applies to established wildlife sanctuaries as well as organizations that: (1) possess a dangerous wild animal; (2) are in the process of being accredited or verified by the global federation of animal sanctuaries as a wildlife sanctuary; and (3) have been informed by the director that they are exempt (OH ST §§ 935.03(A)(2), 935.03(B)(7)). Similar to zoos and circuses, sanctuaries must register their dangerous wild animals not later than 60 days after the effective date of this section (OH ST § 935.04).
D. Scientific Testing and Research Facilities
Research facilities are excluded from most of the requirements under Ohio’s new dangerous wild animal law (OH ST § 935.03(B)(2)-(3)). To qualify for this exception, the facility must either be a research facility as defined by the federal animal welfare act, or be accredited by the association for the assessment and accreditation of laboratory animal care international (OH ST § 935.03(B)(2)-(3)). Research facilities are still required to register their dangerous wild animals not later than 60 days after the effective date of the section (OH ST § 935.04).
In addition, Ohio’s administrative code allows the chief division of wildlife to issue scientific collecting permits and education permits (OH Admin Code § 1501:31-25-01). Persons holding a permit under this rule are authorized to collect or possess wild animals only under the conditions of the permit and in compliance with wildlife laws.
While Great Apes are not normally used in chemical testing, in a few states they are still part of scientific research that would be exempt under state anti-cruelty laws.
III. State Laws Affecting Great Apes in Ohio
Ohio addresses the use and possession of great apes through several avenues in its laws. The state has a new dangerous wild animal law that prohibits possession of certain species unless a person is authorized under a wildlife shelter or propagation permit or other exception (OH ST § 935.02). This is significant because non-human primates other than lemurs, as well as a specific list of non-human primates, are clearly defined as “dangerous wild animals” under this statute (OH ST § 935.01(C)(19)-(20)). Also, while Ohio does not specifically list great apes under state law as an endangered species, there is incorporation by reference to federal law. Finally, great apes are protected from cruelty and neglect under the state’s anti-cruelty provision.
A. Importation, Introduction, and Transplantation of Wildlife Law
Ohio recently amended its dangerous wild animal law after the slaughter of released exotic pets in Zanesville, Ohio, in the fall of 2011. Ohio governor Kasich signed the "Dangerous Wild Animal Act" into law on June 5, 2012. Under this new section, no person shall possess a dangerous wild animal on or after January 1, 2014, unless he or she is authorized under an unexpired wildlife shelter or propagation permit or other exception.
1. Which Great Apes are Covered?
Section 935.01(C) defines what species constitute “dangerous wild animals” under the new law. Under this section, dangerous wild animals include nonhuman primates other than lemurs, as well as a specified list of nonhuman primates (OH ST § 935.01(C)(19)-(20)).
2. What is Prohibited?
Under section 935.02, a person may not possess a dangerous wild animal on or after January 1, 2014, unless he or she is authorized under a valid wildlife shelter or propagation permit or other exception. The law specifically states that no person shall acquire, buy, sell, trade, or transfer possession or ownership of a dangerous wild animal on or after the effective date of this section (OH ST § 935.02(B)(1)). There is a grandfather provision that allows current possessors of a dangerous wild animal to keep the animal provided they follow certain conditions (OH ST § 935.04). These conditions include: registration of the animal not later than 60 days after the bill’s effective date; applying for the applicable permit; implanting a microchip in each animal; and acquiring liability insurance or surety bonds in amounts from $200,000 to $1 million, among other requirements (OH ST §§ 935.04-05). Moreover, the holder of any permit issued under this law must maintain the appropriate records of its animals as required under the statute and accompanying rules (OH ST § 935.15).
In addition to the requirements imposed on owners of dangerous wild animals, the director of agriculture must also comply with certain standards. The law states that the director of agriculture shall maintain a database that lists: (1) the name and address of each person that possesses a dangerous wild animal and registers until January 1, 2014; and (2) on and after January 1, 2014, the name and address of each person that has applied for and been issued a permit under this chapter (OH ST § 935.14).
The Act also creates a dangerous and restricted animals advisory board, as well as a dangerous wild animal state emergency response commission (OH ST §§ 935.26-27). Another section allows municipalities to adopt and enforce ordinances more stringent than the requirements of this chapter (OH ST § 935.29). Furthermore, a county’s dangerous wild animal emergency response team must prepare a plan in the event of a dangerous wild animal escape (OH ST § 935.28).
This section includes multiple exemptions, including those licensed by the USDA under the federal animal welfare act, accredited zoos, circuses, research facilities, wildlife sanctuaries, or other organizations that the director states are exempt (OH ST § 935.03).
3. Standards for Keeping of Dangerous Wild Animals under the Law
Ohio law requires owners of dangerous wild animals to comply with the care and housing standards issued by the Ohio Department of Agriculture (OH ST § 935.12). However, the Department’s rules concerning the care and housing requirements of dangerous wild animals have expired and it has yet to adopt new rules on the subject.
The Act requires a person who holds a wildlife shelter permit to maintain the dangerous wild animals in a facility that consists of at least one acre (OH ST § 935.06(7)(a)). For wildlife propagation permits, the permit holder must maintain the animals in an area consisting of at least two acres (OH ST § 935.07(C)). These acreage requirements do not apply to the specific non-human primates listed under section 935.01(C)(20), or to those applicants whom the director exempts under the terms of their permit. Lastly, section 935.19allows the director of agriculture or the director’s designee, with the consent of the owner, to enter at all reasonable times any property which contains a dangerous wild animal to determine whether or not the premises is complying with the requirements of the statute and rules.
Under section 935.99, several violations of this section are a first degree misdemeanor on a first offense and a fifth degree felony for every subsequent offense. These offenses include selling or offering for sale a dangerous wild animal, removing a microchip from a dangerous wild animal except for medical emergency, failing to post appropriate signs, allowing a dangerous wild animal to roam off the property, or removing teeth or claws from dangerous wild animals (OH ST § 935.99). Violating a municipal ordinance adopted pursuant to this section is a minor misdemeanor (OH ST § 935.99). Finally, knowingly releasing a dangerous wild animal into the wild is a fifth degree felony (OH ST § 935.99).
If the director of agriculture has reason to believe that a dangerous wild animal is being treated or kept in a manner that violates the statute or rules, the director may start an investigation and order the animal to be quarantined or may order the transfer of the animal to another facility (OH ST § 935.20(A)). The director must attempt to notify the owner of the animal, and the owner is responsible for all reasonable costs associated with the quarantine or transfer of the animal (OH ST § 935.20(B) & (D)). If after the investigation the director determines that a violation has occurred, the director shall initiate a court proceeding for the permanent seizure of the animal (OH ST § 935.20(H)).
In the event of a dangerous wild animal’s escape, a law enforcement officer may destroy the animal if it poses a threat to public safety (OH ST § 935.16(B)(1)). That officer is explicitly immune from civil damages for any injury, death, or loss to person or property arising from destruction of the animal (OH ST § 935.22). The owner of an escaped dangerous wild animal is liable for all costs associated with capture or destruction of the animal (OH ST § 935.16(C)).
B. Endangered Species Act: Preservation of Endangered Wildlife (OH ST §§ 1531.01 – 99)
As listed species on the federal list of endangered and threatened species, most great apes are protected under Ohio’s Endangered Species Act. This section prohibits the possession, transport, taking, buying, and selling of an endangered or threatened animal species.
1. Which Great Apes are Covered?
Although the general thrust of Ohio’s law is geared towards native species, all great apes are covered by reference to the federal endangered and threatened species lists (OH ST § 1531.25).
2. What is Prohibited?
Under section 1531.11, the possession, transport, taking, buying, or selling of any wild animals is prohibited. In addition, a person who counsels, aids, shields, or harbors an offender, or who knowingly shares in the proceeds of a violation, is violating the Act. Section 1531.25 requires the chief of the division of wildlife to adopt, modify, and repeal rules restricting the taking or possession of wildlife that he finds to be threatened with statewide extinction.
The law includes some general exceptions. This section requires the adoption of rules that would permit the taking of species for zoological, educational, and scientific purposes under written permits from the chief of the division of wildlife (OH ST § 1531.25). Additionally, rules adopted under this section must in no way restrict the taking or possession of species listed on the federal lists for zoological, educational, or scientific purposes, or for propagation in captivity to preserve the species, under a permit or license from the United States or its instrumentalities (OH ST § 1531.25).
3. Standards for Great Apes Kept under Ohio’s Endangered Species Law
This section does not deal with housing conditions, and there are no state administrative regulations concerning care and keeping of captive endangered species. In most of the cases where an animal is held under an exception to the state law, a federal permit will be required and housing issues are addressed under the 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)].
Despite the lack of housing and care standards, the statute does provide for a wildlife fund created by tax revenue that is used to monitor and protect non-game animals and endangered species (OH ST § 1531.26).
Violation of this section is a misdemeanor and the person is required upon pleading guilty to the offense, along with any fine, term of imprisonment, seizure, and forfeiture imposed, to make restitution for the minimum value of the wild animal illegally held, taken, bought, sold, or possessed (OH ST § 1531.99(C) & (E)). Notably, if the aggregate value of the animal or animals taken exceeds $1,000, the violator is guilty of a felony (OH ST § 1531.99(D)).
C. Cruelty to Animals (OH ST §§ 959.13, 959.99)
Two sections of Ohio’s anti-cruelty law are applicable to great apes. Section 959.13 provides that a person commits the offense of cruelty to animals if he or she tortures “an animal,” deprives one of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beats, needlessly mutilates or kills, or impounds or confines an animal without supplying it during confinement with a sufficient quantity of good wholesome food and water. A person also must not impound or confine an animal without sheltering the animal from wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight if it can reasonably be expected that the animal would become sick or in some way suffer. Other prohibited acts include carrying or conveying an animal in a cruel or inhuman manner, and confining an animal in an enclosure without wholesome exercise or change of air. A person who violates this section is guilty of a second degree misdemeanor with a definite jail term that is not to exceed ninety days (OH ST §§ 959.99, 2929.24). The court may also order the offender to forfeit the animal and provide for its disposition. The proceeds from any sale of an animal shall first be applied to pay the expenses for care of the animal during the time it was taken from the custody of its owner. Any remaining proceeds from the sale are to be paid to the former owner of the animal.
Ohio law views great apes as “dangerous wild animals,” through which possession is limited to those holding wildlife shelter or propagation permits or other exceptions. It does not appear that any other private possession of great apes is allowed in the state. However, state law clearly allows the use of great apes and other wild animals in accredited zoos, circuses, and research facilities. While the law requires that commercial users follow regulations containing standards of care and housing for the animals, the department has yet to adopt any new standards under its rules. As is true with many states, there is not an overall law that directly addresses the possession of great apes or the specific needs of apes in captivity.