In Arkansas, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons are protected because of their status as “endangered species” under state law. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (GFC) prohibits the importation, transportation, sale, purchase, and possession of endangered species unless the animals were legally acquired and are held under a permit (public zoos are exempt). GFC issues permits to possess wildlife for legitimate scientific, education, and conservation purposes; commercial breeding and sale; and for the temporary importation and possession of wildlife for exhibition. There are no state or federal permits authorizing the keeping of endangered/threatened apes as pets.
Both GFC and the state’s Livestock and Poultry Commission (LPC) closely regulate the importation of wildlife, including apes. Individuals wishing to import apes must obtain import permits from both agencies (except the Little Rock Zoo, which is exempt from GFC’s import permit requirement). Under LPC’s regulations, it is illegal to import any animal that is affected with, or has been recently exposed to, any infectious or communicable disease. Prior to entering the state, apes must have certain species-appropriate disease tests and upon entry, must be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary health. GFC requires that all animals are imported under humane and healthy conditions.
In general, Arkansas has no laws establishing minimum standards for the housing and care of captive apes. There is one exception for Wildlife Breeder/Dealer Permit holders who must house their permitted wildlife in a permanent enclosure or pen that is maintained in good repair and is sufficient to prevent escape and protect the animals from injury. According to GFC regulations, that agency may impose special permit conditions governing the care of wildlife held under a permit. Also, 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. Finally, Arkansas’s anti-cruelty laws basically protect apes from physical abuse and prohibit the confinement of those animals without access to wholesome food and water and adequate shelter.
The state’s stringent import permit requirements allow state officials to track all captive apes entering Arkansas. In addition, GFC’s mandatory reporting requirements for Wildlife Breeder/Dealer Permit holders allow that agency to monitor the births, deaths, and sales of animals held under those permits. Under the current regulatory scheme, it is unclear whether GFC has similar reporting requirements for zoos and research facilities holding apes under a Permit to Possess and Hold Captive Wildlife. If so, those permit and reporting requirements would likely constitute a comprehensive statewide system for tracking and monitoring all of the captive apes within Arkansas.