According to the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission (LWFC), the possession of certain nonhuman primates “poses significant hazards to public safety and health,” and “is detrimental to the welfare of the animals.” On April 20, 2006, LWFC outlawed the importation, possession, purchase, and sale of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gibbons, and all other nonhuman primates. As a result, it is illegal to possess apes as pets and for most commercial purposes in Louisiana. Accredited zoos, research facilities, and the Chimp Haven federal sanctuary are exempt from the ban. Also, certain non-accredited zoos, accredited wildlife sanctuaries, educational institutions, and out-of state circuses may import and possess apes with a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) permit. In addition to those exemptions, any individual who possessed an ape immediately prior to April 20, 2006 may keep that ape for the remainder of the animal’s life with an LDWF permit, subject to various restrictions and legal requirements.
Accredited zoos, research facilities, and the Chimp Haven are not required to have any state permits to import apes. Non-accredited zoos, accredited sanctuaries, educational institutions, and out-of state circuses must obtain an LDWF possession permit prior to bringing apes into the state. In addition, all facilities importing apes must comply with any federal permit requirements and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s (LDAF) animal importation rules. LDAF requires anyone importing wild or semi-wild animals to file a report with the State Veterinarian within 10 days of the date of shipment. Those animals must be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary health and may be subject to an entry inspection. Under LWFC’s nonhuman primate regulations, it is illegal for anyone, other than those facilities discussed above, to import apes.
Louisiana has no statutes or regulations establishing minimum standards for the housing and care of apes. When LDWF issues possession permits to non-accredited zoos, accredited sanctuaries, educational institutions, and out-of-state circuses, it may include specific minimum standards of care as permit conditions. Also, virtually all of the entities that are allowed to possess apes under state law (with the exception of individuals keeping “grandfathered” apes) are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Federal Animal Welfare Act and must comply with the federal minimum standards of care for primates. Although the state lacks its own enforceable minimum standards of care for apes, it does have a variety of laws making owners and possessors criminally and/or civilly liable for the neglect, abuse, or improper confinement of those animals. Under the state’s general anti-cruelty laws, it is illegal for any animal custodian to fail to provide an animal with proper food, water, shelter, and veterinary care. Also, anyone (except certain researchers) who mistreats an animal causing unnecessary or unjustifiable pain is subject to criminal prosecution and forfeiture of the animal victim(s). While those laws are generally aimed at protecting the animals, other laws are designed to protect the public from irresponsible animal owners and custodians. For example, if an improperly confined or restrained ape (or other animal) injures or kills a person, the animal’s keeper may be prosecuted for “negligent injuring” or “negligent homicide,” respectively. Also, under the state’s Civil Code, the owner of an improperly confined or controlled ape (or other animal) who injures a person or causes property damage is generally responsible for compensating the victim(s) for the injuries and damages caused by the animal.
Because of LDAF’s import reporting requirements, those agency officials are able to monitor the number of apes entering the state. In addition, LWFC’s permit requirements allow LDWF to track some of the apes that are lawfully maintained within the state, particularly those animals that are possessed by private individuals. However, there is no centralized or complete data on the number of captive apes that currently reside within the state. This is largely because LWFC’s permit requirement does not apply to accredited zoos, research facilities, and the Chimp Haven and those facilities are not required to register their animals with the state or report animal acquisitions, sales, births, or deaths.