In Alaska, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons are considered “game” animals, which are regulated by the state’s Department of Fish and Game (DFG). In general, it is illegal to import and possess apes without a DFG permit. The agency does not issue permits to keep apes as pets or assistance animals (except for chimpanzees that were possessed prior to January 31, 2010). In fact, DFG only issues permits to import and possess apes for legitimate scientific and educational purposes. Certain commercial exhibitors (like travelling circuses) may be allowed to bring apes into the state with a temporary commercial use permit, but those animals may not remain in Alaska, and must be exported by the date on the permit.
The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) regulates the interstate movement of animals, including apes, in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. In addition to a Department of Fish and Game permit and any necessary federal permits, all apes that are imported into Alaska must be accompanied by a DEC permit and a health certificate. Apes that have been infected with, or exposed to, a communicable disease may not enter the state.
Alaska has certain minimum standards of care for all captive animals, including apes. Anyone in possession of an ape must maintain the animal in an environment that is compatible with protecting and maintaining his/her good health and safety. Also, all captive animals must have access to sufficient food and water and reasonable medical care. DFG may impose additional housing and care requirements when it issues game animal permits. All exhibitors and research facilities with apes are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and, in addition to the state’s requirements, those facilities must comply with the federal standards of care for primates. Finally, Alaska’s anti-cruelty laws protect all captive apes from severe physical abuse.
The state’s various permit requirements allow DFG and DEC officials to track all Great Apes entering Alaska. However, there are gaps in the laws for certain activities (such as sale and breeding of certain species of apes). As a result, the state does not have a comprehensive system of monitoring all of the apes that may be bred or sold in Alaska. As a practical matter, this bears little relevance to the health and safety of Alaska’s citizens or animals because, according to one state official, there are likely no captive apes currently residing within the state.