Although the laws affecting Great Apes differ from state-to-state, each state tends to regulate the different species of apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gibbons) in the same manner. In other words, if a state prohibits the possession of one species of ape, that state’s ban generally applies to all species of apes. Likewise, if a state has import requirements that apply to one species of ape, those requirements almost inevitably apply to all species of apes. Texas has not taken this approach. Instead, the state’s Dangerous Wild Animal Act (DWA), classifies gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans as “dangerous wild animals,” but does not include gibbons and bonobos within that category. This distinction is important because it affects the degree to which the animals are regulated under state law. Because they are not considered “dangerous wild animals” gibbons and bonobos may be possessed by anyone, for any purpose, with virtually no restrictions under state law. However, certain federal and local laws may limit the possession and use of those two species of apes. While it is generally legal under the DWA to keep gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans as pets and for commercial and scientific purposes, the possession of those three species of apes is subject to a variety of legal requirements such as local registration of the animals, liability insurance for damage caused by the animals, and minimum standards of care for the animals. When the DWA was enacted in 2002, counties were faced with the choice to either outlaw the possession of “dangerous wild animals” (gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans) or to set up a local dangerous wild animal registration programs and enforce all the state’s legal requirements for possessing those animals. As a result, an estimated 90 percent of all counties in Texas have chosen to ban the possession of apes that are considered “dangerous wild animals,” and many of those counties have outlawed gibbons and bonobos as well.
There are no standard import requirements, such as import permits or certificates of veterinary inspection, for any species of ape that enters the state (regardless of whether the animal is considered a “dangerous wild animal” under the DWA). Apes that are imported from heavily tick-infested areas must be treated for tick infestation by a state or federal agent. Although there are no current restrictions on importing apes, the Texas Animal Health Commission does have the authority to restrict the importation of those animals if it finds that a “disease of concern” exists among the apes entering the state.
The state’s general animal-cruelty laws prohibit the outright abuse and neglect of most captive apes; however, those laws do little to ensure that apes are maintained in conditions that meet their physical, social, and psychological needs. Under the DWA, gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans must be housed in facilities that meet the state’s minimum size requirements and that are equipped with environmental enrichment elements that provide physical and mental stimulation for the animals. There are no similar requirements for bonobos and gibbons. Other than the facility requirements for “dangerous wild animals,” the state has no specific minimum standards of care for captive apes. Federal laws do have certain minimum standards that apply to dealers, exhibitors, and research facilities, but those standards do not protect apes that are possessed as pets or by sanctuaries that do not publicly exhibit the animals. Texas actually has a number of Great Apes that are housed in sanctuaries, but the state does not have any laws that specifically address, define, or regulate those facilities.
Because of the DWA’s registration requirement for gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans, the state has the ability to track some apes in Texas. However, research facilities, accredited zoos, transient circuses, and a variety of other facilities are exempt from the DWA and there are no registration requirements for gibbons and bonobos. As a result, it is difficult to gage the actual number of captive apes that currently reside within the state.