In Florida, all gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons are classified as “Class I” wildlife that pose a “significant danger” to humans and other animals. As a result, they are among the most heavily regulated animals in the state. It is generally illegal to keep any species of ape as a pet, and in addition to federal permits, a state permit is required to possess those animals for any commercial purpose like breeding, sale, or exhibition. The state does not issue permits to individuals that lack sufficient experience with apes, have inadequate facilities, or have prior convictions involving captive wildlife or other animals. Individuals and facilities that possess apes in Florida must comply with a variety of legal requirements which are designed to safeguard the public from the health and safety risks involved with maintaining and exhibiting apes. In addition, all apes must be maintained pursuant to the state’s minimum standards of care, many of which exceed the federal standards of care under the Animal Welfare Act. Federally regulated research facilities are exempt from the state’s permit program and most other state laws governing the possession and treatment of apes. However, the state does require that those facilities maintain detailed records on their use of apes in experiments.
It is illegal to import an ape without first securing a state entry permit. Also, all apes entering Florida must be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection which confirms that the animals are free of any signs or symptoms of infectious diseases. The state may inspect and quarantine or deny entry to any animal that displays symptoms of illness. Florida law also regulates the transport of apes, whether or not interstate or international travel is involved. A state permit is required to transport those animals and vehicles transporting apes are required to stop at all agricultural inspection stations along their route.
Florida has a variety of laws that prohibit the mistreatment of apes and that set minimum standards of care for those animals. The state’s anti-cruelty statutes make it illegal to abuse or neglect captive apes and provide for the confiscation of animals that have been victims of such crimes. Those laws do not protect apes that are used for medical science; however, several local ordinances in Florida have banned the use of apes (and other animals) in scientific experiments that involve any cruel or inhumane treatment. Florida also has a unique statute that outlaws the public exhibition of crippled, physically distorted, or disfigured apes for profit. Apes that are used for exhibition or entertainment may not be handled by the public in any way that will negatively affect the health, safety, or welfare of the animals. Finally, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has developed certain minimum standards of care for the housing, feeding, maintenance, and handling of captive apes. Federal law also sets minimum standards for the care of apes that are possessed for exhibition and other commercial purposes or for scientific research. However, Florida’s standards tend to be higher from an animal welfare and public safety standpoint and apply to all captive apes in Florida, regardless of the purpose for which they are possessed.
Because of Florida’s extensive permit system, the state is able to monitor the number and location of most apes that are lawfully maintained within the state. Research laboratories are exempt from the permit requirement and are not otherwise required to register their apes with the state. As a result, there is no centralized or complete data on the number of captive apes that currently reside in Florida.