In Indiana, the importation, possession, and sale of certain species of apes are restricted under the state’s Endangered Species laws, the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Exotic Mammal rules, or both. In some cases those laws and rules overlap in terms of the species of apes that are covered and the activities that are restricted; in other cases those laws and rules may actually conflict with each other. In most cases, those laws and rules are ambiguous and are open to various legal interpretations. It appears that because of their status as federally listed endangered species, it is illegal to transport, possess, and sell gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons, and wild populations of chimpanzees in Indiana. DNR has the authority to permit the possession and transportation of those endangered apes for scientific, zoological, or educational purposes, for propagation in captivity of the wildlife, or for other special purposes. However, the agency has not developed any regulations addressing the issue, nor does it issue any type of permits for primates. As a result, there appears to be no legal avenue to import or possess those endangered apes in Indiana.
In addition to their status as federally listed endangered species, apes are also considered exotic mammals under the Fish and Wildlife Act. DNR regulates certain exotic mammals, including apes in the family Pongidae (though it is not clear which species of apes are included). Under the agency’s Exotic Mammal rules, it is generally illegal to take, possess, or sell apes in the family Pongidae, except that they may be possessed and sold with a U.S. Department of Agriculture license; no state permits are required.
DNR’s Exotic Mammal rules conflict with certain provisions of Indiana’s Endangered Species laws. First, IN ST § 14-22-34-12 prohibits the sale of any animal on the U.S. list of endangered species (gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons, and wild populations of chimpanzees) while 312 IAC 9-3-18.5 authorizes the sale of apes in the family Pongidae (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and possibly orangutans) by USDA licensees. Second, IN ST § 14-22-34-12 prohibits the possession of any animal on the U.S. list of endangered species (gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons, and wild populations of chimpanzees), but IN ST § 14-22-34-15 authorizes DNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife to permit the possession of those animals for certain listed purposes. In contrast, DNR’s Exotic Mammal rules (312 IAC 9-3-18.5) authorize the possession of apes in the family Pongidae (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and possibly orangutans) by USDA licensees for any purpose (including strictly commercial purposes), rather than ensuring that endangered apes are possessed for only those purposes approved under IN ST § 14-22-34-15. As a result of these ambiguities and potential conflicts between the laws and regulations, legal questions involving the importation, possession, and sale of apes may have to be resolved by Indiana’s courts.
Indiana has no minimum standards for the keeping of apes and few laws governing the treatment of those animals. DNR does have minimum standards for the housing, maintenance, and care of wild animals that are held under a permit; however, those standards do not apply to wild/exotic animals that are possessed without a permit or to zoos, carnivals, circuses, nature centers, or animal dealers. Under DNR’s Exotic Mammal rules (312 IAC 9-3-18.5), it is illegal to “take” (meaning harm, harass, or kill) any ape in the family Pongidae (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and possibly orangutans). Also, the state’s general anti-cruelty laws require exhibitors to give their captive apes food and water and make it illegal to beat those animals in a manner that causes serious injury or illness.
Because the state has no permit, registration, or reporting requirements applicable to Great Apes, Indiana currently has no mechanism for tracking or monitoring those animals. As a result, there is no way to accurately gage the number of apes currently residing within the state – whether legally or illegally.