Under Missouri law, all gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons are classified as “dangerous wild animals,” which, according to state officials, have the potential to inflict serious or potentially fatal injuries and carry numerous infectious diseases that are transmissible to humans. Because of their status as “dangerous wild animals,” some apes (except those in zoos, circuses, research facilities, and animal refuges) must be registered with the local law enforcement agency of the county in which they reside. Although the dangerous wild animal law does not actually restrict the possession or use of apes in Missouri, the state’s Wildlife and Forestry Law does. Under that law, it is illegal to import, transport, or sell endangered or threatened animals, including all species of apes, without a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Since FWS does not issue permits to import, transport, or sell apes for use as pets, those activities are illegal in Missouri. However, apes may be imported, transported, and sold for commercial purposes (like exhibition or breeding) or for scientific research with a federal permit.
Beyond the federal permit requirement, there are no state laws governing the importation of apes. The Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) requires that all exotic animals entering the state, or transported or exhibited within the state be accompanied by a certificate of veterinary inspection which confirms that the animals are free from infectious disease. However the agency does not enforce this rule for apes. Also, all animals that are being transferred between certain accredited zoos must be accompanied by an import permit. As with the certificate of veterinary inspection requirement, MDA does not enforce this rule for apes.
Missouri has no minimum standards of care for captive apes beyond the general provisions found within the anti-cruelty statutes. While those laws protect some apes from abuse and serious neglect, they do not apply to research facilities or to zoos and other “facilities” that are “currently in compliance” with the Federal Animal Welfare Act. Furthermore, those laws do little to ensure that covered animals are maintained in conditions that meet their physical, social, and psychological needs. Federal regulations do set minimum standards for the handling, feeding, housing, and maintenance of apes that are possessed for exhibition and other commercial purposes, or for scientific research. Those federal standards do not apply to apes that are possessed as pets, in private collections, or in sanctuaries that are not open to the public. As a result of the gap in those laws, some apes in Missouri may be legally maintained their entire lives in complete isolation with nothing in their cages except food and water.
Because of Missouri’s dangerous wild animal registration requirements, the state is theoretically able to monitor the number and location of some apes that are lawfully maintained within the state. However, for several reasons, there is no centralized or complete data on the number of captive apes that currently reside in Missouri. First, the registration requirement does not apply to zoos, circuses, research facilities, or animal refuges. As a result, only a small percentage of ape owners are actually required to register under the law. Second, there is no requirement that local law enforcement agencies report to the state on the numbers and types of dangerous wild animals that are registered within each county. In fact, the law creates no mechanism within the state government to track those animals even if counties were willing to voluntarily report registered animals to the state.