Full Title Name:  Overview of Hawaii 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:  Hawaii Country of Origin:  United States
Summary: This is a short overview of Hawaii Great Ape law.

In Hawaii, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons are heavily regulated because of their dual status as both endangered/threatened species and restricted animals. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) prohibits the importation or possession of restricted animals without an HDOA permit and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) prohibits the possession, transportation, or sale of endangered/threatened species without a DLNR permit. Those agencies do not issue permits to import or possess apes as pets or for commercial purposes. As a result, commercial animal dealers and exhibitors (like circuses, performing animal acts, private zoos, and wild animal parks) cannot legally possess apes in Hawaii. Municipal zoos, primate sanctuaries, government agencies, universities, and research facilities may possess apes with the appropriate federal and state permits.

HDOA strictly regulates the importation of all animals into Hawaii. In addition to having the necessary permits to possess apes, facilities wishing to import apes must also obtain an HDOA import permit. Under Section 4-20-7 of HDOA’s regulations, it is illegal to import animals that display symptoms of transmissible diseases or that have been recently exposed to such diseases. Upon entry, apes must be accompanied by a valid health certificate and must be presented to HDOA for inspection. The agency may quarantine, seize, or deny entry to any animal that is diseased or imported in violation of the agency’s requirements.

In general, the state has no laws establishing minimum standards for the housing and care of apes. The Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) has established certain sanitation rules that apply to the keeping of all animals, including apes. Under those rules, animal enclosures must be cleaned regularly and food must be stored in a manner that prevents rodent infestation. Also, HDOA must approve all facilities housing apes (and other permitted animals) and the agency may impose permit conditions for the health and safety of those animals. Hawaii’s general anti-cruelty laws do not protect apes from many forms of neglect (the neglect provisions are limited to pet animals and equines), but it is illegal to physically abuse apes under those laws. Finally, most of the facilities that are able to possess apes under state law are also regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Federal Animal Welfare Act and must comply with the federal standards of care for primates.

Hawaii’s import permit requirements allow agency officials to track all captive apes entering Hawaii. While many states lack a system to physically locate apes once they have entered a state legally (due to unreported births, deaths, transfers, etc.), Hawaii’s extensive regulations should allow agency officials to maintain a current inventory of the physical locations of all the captive apes within the state. First, all apes must be held under valid DLNR and HDOA permits; the permitted animals cannot be sold or otherwise transferred unless allowed under the terms of the permit, and any person acquiring an ape from a permit holder must first apply for, and obtain the necessary permits. In addition, many apes must also be bonded, and all births, deaths, transfers, and even exports of bonded animals must be reported to HDOA. Finally, it is illegal for any permit holder to keep an ape in, or move an ape to, a facility that has not been pre-approved by HDOA. 

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