In 2010, Illinois amended its Dangerous Animal Act to prohibit the possession of chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons by exotic pet owners and animal dealers. That ban contains a “grandfather clause” which allows any person who possessed an ape prior to January 1, 2011 to keep that ape for the remainder of the animal’s life if the ape was registered with a local animal control agency by April 1, 2011. It is still legal for colleges, universities, scientific institutions, research laboratories, veterinary hospitals, animal refuges, zoos, circuses, and other U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) licensed exhibitors to import, possess, display, and sell apes within Illinois. The state does not restrict or regulate the use of apes by those entities, nor does it require them to register their apes with state or local agencies. In fact, the state has no minimum standards for the care or housing of captive apes, and thus no way to ensure that the animals are maintained in a manner that promotes their physical, social, and psychological well-being.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDA) is responsible for regulating the importation of animals to protect the health of animals in Illinois and to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Until recently, IDA required an import permit and certificate of veterinary inspection for all apes entering the state, but the agency repealed that rule in 2007. Now, under the state’s Diseased Animals Act and other IDA regulations, only those apes entering the state for exhibition purposes are required to have an import permit issued by IDA and a certificate of veterinary inspection. Individuals importing apes for any other reason are not required to obtain an import permit, submit documentation regarding the animals’ health status, or even notify the state of the importation.
The state’s Humane Care for Animals Act (HCAA) protects some, but not all, captive apes from abuse, neglect, and inhumane transport. Two significant exemptions within the HCAA limit the protection afforded to apes under that law. First, scientific research facilities are generally exempt from the state’s anti-cruelty laws and state and local law enforcement agents are not authorized to investigate allegations of animal abuse within federally registered facilities. Also, although it is illegal under federal law for anyone regulated by the USDA (exhibitors, dealers, and research laboratories) to defang apes, Illinois actually exempts that practice from the list of prohibited activities under the state’s anti-cruelty laws. So, individuals that are not regulated by the USDA under the Federal Animal Welfare Act (namely, pet owners and some animal refuges/sanctuaries) may still legally defang their apes in Illinois, despite the federal government’s findings that the removal of the canine teeth in apes can cause “ongoing pain, discomfort, and pathological conditions.”
Illinois has no statewide permit or registration program to monitor the number and location of the captive apes within the state or to ensure that those animals are imported, possessed, or transferred with the required federal permits. As a result, it is difficult to gage the actual number of apes that currently reside in the state, whether legally or not. The state’s local registration requirement for pet apes does allow county and municipal governments to monitor the presence of those animals within their jurisdictions, but it does not apply to apes possessed for all other purposes.