Full Title Name:  Overview of Alabama Great Ape Laws

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Hanna Coate Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2011 Primary Citation:  Animal Legal & Historical Center Jurisdiction Level:  Alabama Country of Origin:  United States
Summary: This article discusses the state laws that govern the import, possession, use, and treatment of Great Apes in Alabama. In Alabama, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gibbons are considered “Class 1” wildlife, which means that they are among the most heavily regulated wild animals in the state. Although the possession and use of apes is heavily regulated in certain areas, such as display and exhibition, it is virtually unregulated in other areas. The following article 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. The discussion concludes with a compilation of local ordinances which govern the possession and use of apes within geographic subdivisions of the state.

In Alabama, there are few laws that apply to exotic or wild animals like apes. According to one county commissioner who supports greater state-level regulation of those animals, “[p]eople in Alabama are more opposed to restrictions than in other states. That’s just the way of life we’ve grown up with.” Although Alabama generally does not regulate the possession of apes by exotic pet owners, dealers, breeders, pet shops, and traveling exhibitors, it does have extensive rules governing the possession of apes by certain exhibitors, including privately-owned zoos, menageries, and wild animal parks. Gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons are considered “Class 1” wildlife, which means that exhibitors who possess those animals must have “exceptional knowledge and facilities to ensure the safety of the public and the comfort and well-being of the animal(s).” Under state law, many exhibitors must qualify for, and secure, a permit from the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) regardless of the possession of a federal permit. Permittees are monitored by the agency for compliance with the state’s minimum standards for the display and care of captive apes.

Alabama does not restrict the importation of apes for any purpose. There are no import permit requirements, nor are there any health inspection, testing, or certification requirements for apes entering the state. While they are essentially unregulated once they enter the state, traveling ape exhibitors are required to notify the Department of Agriculture prior to entering Alabama with animals. This law does not actually protect apes during transport or ensure that the apes entering the state are free from infectious diseases.

In 1971, the state legislature directed the DCNR to establish minimum standards of care for apes and other wild animals that are possessed for exhibition purposes. Forty years later, in 2011, the agency finalized the regulation, which for the first time in the state’s history sets minimum standards of care for some captive apes. Those minimum standards, while comprehensive, only apply to apes that are possessed by certain exhibitors. In addition, individuals that had a state exhibitor’s permit prior to the effective date of the regulation are exempt from many of the new requirements. There are no other state laws that set specific minimum standards of care for captive apes that are possessed as pets, for breeding or sale, research purposes, and for other commercial purposes. While the state’s general anti-cruelty statute does prohibit the outright abuse and neglect of those animals, it does little to ensure that apes are maintained in conditions that meet their physical, social, and psychological needs.  

Although the state’s permit program allows agency officials to track some of the captive apes that reside within the state for exhibition purposes, it does not provide an accurate count due to the number of exhibitors that are exempt from the permit program like publicly owned zoos and traveling circuses. Additionally, the state has no registration requirement for apes that are possessed as pets, for breeding and sale, for scientific research, or for a variety of other purposes, so it is difficult to gage the actual number of captive apes that currently reside within the state.

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