While many states restrict or regulate the possession of Great Apes out of concern for the health, safety and welfare of the animals or the public, Michigan regulates those animals because of their status as endangered and threatened species under the Federal Endangered Species Act. The state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Act (NREPA) makes it illegal to take, import, export, possess, buy, sell, or transport endangered or threatened animals, including gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons. However, that same law does allow apes that originate from other states (besides Michigan) or countries to be imported, transported, possessed, or sold with a federal permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or with an applicable permit from another state. That exemption does not apply to apes that originated in Michigan; so it is illegal to transport, possess, or sell any ape that was born in Michigan, regardless of whether a person possesses a federal or state permit authorizing those activities.
Michigan’s Animal Industry Act makes it illegal to import any animal that could spread serious diseases, cause considerable physical harm, or otherwise endanger humans, other animals, or property. However, according to the state agency that enforces this law, the import ban does not apply to apes. Therefore, apes may be imported pursuant to a federal permit and must be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection which confirms that the animal is free from infectious diseases. Also, all apes imported into Michigan must be housed, fed, restrained, and cared for in a manner that is approved by the state’s Department of Agriculture (MDA).
In addition to the state’s anti-cruelty statutes, which outlaw the abuse or neglect of most apes in Michigan, the state’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) makes it illegal to harm, wound or kill all threatened or endangered species, including apes, without a federal permit (or an “applicable” permit issued by a state other than Michigan). While the anti-cruelty statutes do not apply to apes used in scientific research, the NREPA requires research facilities to secure a permit prior to using those animals in harmful or lethal experiments. In addition, the Public Health Code requires research facilities that keep or use apes to register with the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) and to comply with that agency’s minimum standards of care for those animals. Despite its legal obligation to do so, MDCH does not currently register or inspect those facilities, nor does it enforce any minimum standards of care for apes maintained by those facilities. Although the Animal Industry Act and the Public Health Code both require that certain apes are maintained pursuant to certain minimum standards, those standards have either not been published or are not enforced by the responsible agencies. As a result, the state has no minimum standards of care for captive apes beyond the general provisions found within the anti-cruelty statutes. While those laws primarily protect apes from abuse and serious neglect, they do little to ensure that the animals are maintained in conditions that meet their physical, social, and psychological needs.
Michigan has no statewide animal 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.