Full Title Name:  Overview of D.C. 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:  District of Columbia Country of Origin:  United States
Summary: This is a short overview of the District of Columbia's Great Ape laws.

Washington D.C. does not have any statutes or regulations that specifically address Great Apes. Instead, the District has a blanket ban on all animals that are not specifically exempt by statute. Because they are not exempt from the ban, it is illegal to import, possess, and sell gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons within the municipality. The ban does not apply to federally licensed exhibitors, but circuses and other temporary exhibitors must obtain a Special Event/Exotic Animal permit (and any required federal permits) to import and display apes. D.C.’s laws do not regulate the importation, possession, or sale of apes by other federally licensed exhibitors, including zoos, sanctuaries, and wildlife parks.

In general, D.C has no laws that set specific minimum standards for the housing and maintenance of apes. The District’s general anti-cruelty laws criminalize certain types of neglect, including the failure to provide proper food, drink, air, light, space, veterinary care, shelter, and protection from the weather. Also, the D.C. Department of Health’s Health Regulation and Licensing Administration (HRLA) may impose certain care and management requirements for animals held under a Special Event/Exotic Animal Permit (meaning, exotic animals held by circuses and other temporary exhibitors). Despite the scant local standards, all federally licensed exhibitors are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and must comply with the federal minimum standards of care for primates.

Washington D.C. has two important laws that protect apes (and other animals) from both physical and psychological abuse. D.C. Code § 8-1808(i) makes it illegal for exhibitors to force an animal to engage in unnatural behaviors or to inflict physical or psychological injuries on animals in order to make them perform. In addition, the use of chemical, mechanical, electrical, or manual devices in a manner that is likely to cause physical or other injury/suffering is outlawed (regardless of whether injury or suffering actually results). D.C. Code § 8-1808(i) not only penalizes the actual abusers, but also owners, operators, and spectators at public or private shows in which animals are illegally forced to perform. In addition, D.C.’s anti-cruelty laws prohibit other acts of physical abuse, cruel chaining, and inhumane transport of animals.

Because the District’s permit requirements only apply to transient circuses and other temporary exhibitors, it has no mechanism to track or monitor the apes that are imported, possessed, bred, and sold by other federally licensed exhibitors. As a result, it is difficult to gage the number of apes that legally reside within Washington D.C.

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