Colorado’s Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act (PACFA) prohibits the importation, possession, sale, and transfer of apes by exotic pet owners and animal dealers. There is little state-level regulation of chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons that are possessed for other purposes. Federally licensed exhibitors (like circuses, zoos, animal acts, and some wildlife sanctuaries), scientific research facilities, and disabled people can import and possess apes. Also, anyone who possessed a pet ape on or before July 1, 1973 may keep that ape for the remainder of the animal’s life. Normally, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR) licenses all facilities with wild and exotic animals and regulates the importation, housing, care, and use of animals by all state licensees. However, DNR does not apply the state’s mandatory licensure requirements or any of the Colorado Wildlife Commission’s (CWC) regulations covering the importation, possession, and sale of wild and exotic animals to individuals or facilities with apes. For example, if a wild animal park had only apes, the facility would be entirely unregulated by DNR and wouldn’t be required to obtain a state license to possess or display those animals. On the other hand, if that same park had apes plus at least one other wild or exotic animal like a tiger, a platypus, or even an exotic rodent, it would have to qualify for, and obtain, a Commercial Wildlife Park License and would have to comply with CWC’s regulations governing the importation, possession, transportation and sale of its wild/exotic animal(s) (other than apes). In addition, the wild animal park would have to be constructed pursuant to certain minimum standards and become accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
Under state law, it is illegal to import any live wildlife without an import permit and a health certificate. According to CWC regulations, an import permit must be obtained from both DNR and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA). DNR does not apply CWC’s import requirements to apes, so the importation of apes is entirely unregulated by that agency. On the other hand, CDA does require an import permit and health certificate for all imported apes.
There are few state laws that protect apes from abuse and neglect or set minimum standards for their care. Some captive apes, including those kept as pets or for scientific research, are protected by the state’s anti-cruelty laws. However, those laws do not apply to federally licensed exhibitors. This means that circuses, zoos, wild animal parks, carnivals, road-side attractions, travelling shows, and other ape exhibitors cannot be convicted for animal cruelty under state law. Also, although CWC has extensive regulations governing the housing and care of wild and exotic animals, DNR does not apply those rules to facilities that exclusively possess apes.
CDA’s import permit requirement allows that agency to track all captive apes entering the state. However, Colorado has no system for tracking or monitoring apes beyond their initial entry. DNR does not apply Colorado’s mandatory wild/exotic animal licensing requirements to individuals and facilities with apes and the state has no registration requirement for those animals. As a result, it is difficult to gage the actual number of captive apes that currently reside in Colorado.