In California, all gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons are classified as “wildlife” that must be heavily regulated by the state for their own health and welfare as well as public safety. In general, it is illegal to import, possess, or sell apes for use as pets in California. However, that ban includes a grandfather clause which allows any person that possessed an ape in California prior to January 1992 to obtain a state permit to keep that ape for the remainder of the animal’s life. Also, in addition to any federally required permits, all breeders, dealers, and exhibitors must qualify for, and obtain, a state permit in order to import, transport, or possess any ape in California. Research facilities are exempt from this permit requirement, but are required to comply with other state laws governing the importation and treatment of apes.
Generally, two separate state permits are required to import apes (research facilities need only obtain one). Applicants for those permits must meet stringent personal qualifications, have appropriate facilities, and demonstrate the ability to adequately care for the ape(s). State officials review each application to ensure that the importation of an ape will not endanger the public health and safety. All imported apes are closely monitored and immediately quarantined in approved facilities for at least thirty days, during which time the animals are examined and tested to ensure that they meet the state’s health requirements.
Several state laws prohibit the mistreatment, abuse, and neglect of captive apes, and also set specific minimum standards of care for those animals. The state’s anti-cruelty laws protect apes from abuse and neglect. Also, they protect performing animals by allowing law enforcement agents to confiscate any ape that is being forced to perform, but cannot due to poor physical condition, sickness, or neglect. California has a unique law that makes it illegal to depict cruelty or killing of an ape in films or television shows if those acts actually occurred during the filming of the motion pictures. Finally, all apes in California must be maintained in compliance with the state’s minimum standards for the handling, medical care, feeding, and housing of those animals. Under federal law, apes that are possessed for commercial purposes, exhibition, or scientific research must be maintained according to certain federal standards of care. California law mandates that all apes, regardless of the purpose for which they are possessed, are maintained pursuant to those federal standards, as well as the state standards.
Because of California’s extensive permit system, the state is able to monitor the number and location of most apes that are lawfully maintained within the state. However, research laboratories are exempt from the permit requirement and are not otherwise required to register their apes with the state, so there is no centralized or complete data on the number of captive apes that currently reside in California.