New York has fairly extensive state laws relating to the importation, possession, use, and treatment of Great Apes. Under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law, all chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons are strictly regulated because of their status as both “wild animals” and “endangered” or “threatened” species. It is illegal to import, possess, or sell apes for use as pets, but individuals who had pet apes prior to January 1, 2005 may keep their apes for the remainder of the animals’ lives if they qualify for, and obtain, a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) license. Certain listed entities, including wildlife sanctuaries, educational institutions, and some federally licensed exhibitors may import, export, transport, possess, and/or sell apes with a DEC license and any necessary federal permits or licenses. Those entities are closely regulated by DEC and, in addition, all facilities using apes for scientific research must be approved by the state’s Department of Health (NYDH). Both of those agencies have the authority to revoke a facility’s licensure (DEC) and/or approval (NYDH) for non-compliance with applicable laws, without which a facility may not legally possess apes in the state.
The state’s anti-cruelty laws and the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) protect apes that are kept by exotic pet owners, exhibitors, research facilities, and wildlife sanctuaries from abuse and neglect. Any pet owner who is convicted of animal cruelty is ineligible for a DEC license, without which it is illegal to keep a pet ape. Also, although federal law does not require it, the DEC mandates that all licensed pet ape owners must comply with the minimum standards of care set forth in the Federal Animal Welfare Act. Research facilities that are approved by the state’s Department of Health (NYDH) are exempt from the state’s anti-cruelty laws; however, researchers that conduct experiments on apes without NYDH approval may be prosecuted for abuse or neglect of laboratory animals. Also under the ECL, it is illegal for anyone to “take” or kill any ape without a permit issued by DEC. So, any research facility that wishes to use an ape in an experiment that will result in the animal’s death must first obtain a permit from DEC authorizing the killing of that animal. All state and local law enforcement officers have a legal duty to enforce the state’s anti-cruelty laws and any ape that has been confined in crowded, unhealthy, or unsanitary conditions or deprived of food, water, or other necessary care for more than 12 hours may be confiscated with a warrant.
In addition to its many laws aimed at protecting captive apes, New York has several unique laws aimed at safeguarding the public from the health and safety risks posed by those animals. As a condition of state licensure, DEC prohibits all physical contact between apes and the public. Any licensee who violates this rule may have his or her license revoked and thus lose the ability to legally possess apes within the state. Also, in order to protect fire, police, and ambulance personnel from potentially dangerous encounters with apes, state law requires all licensed pet ape owners, research facilities, and some wildlife sanctuaries to report the presence of their apes to the clerk of the city, town, or village in which the animals reside. The clerk must then report the animals to all local police, fire, and emergency medical service departments so that those agencies can take appropriate precautions when entering facilities housing apes. Finally, New York makes all ape owners or possessors criminally liable if the animal attacks any person and the owner/possessor failed to “exercise due care” to prevent that attack. Under this law, an owner or possessor can be prosecuted even if an ape had not previously attacked or displayed any signs of viciousness.
Because DEC’s licensure requirement applies to all captive apes in New York, the agency is able to maintain a comprehensive database of all of the apes that are lawfully maintained within the state. In addition, the local registration requirement ensures that local governments are informed of the presence of some apes within their jurisdictions. Unfortunately, the local registration requirement does not apply to all captive apes, so counties, cities, towns, and villages would need to implement additional reporting requirements in order to effectively monitor all the apes within their communities.