Politics & Government

Animal ban likely to be law

Farewell, my rhinoceros.

A divided state Senate on Tuesday voted to ban most private ownership of a long list of "potentially dangerous wild animals," including crocodiles, jaguars, gaboon vipers and all primates, even small monkeys.

House Bill 1418 now goes back to the House, which is expected to concur. If it becomes law this summer, people who already own such animals could keep them but couldn't add any more, even through breeding.

State lawmakers have debated such a ban for seven years, but the issue took on new life this year when Lewis County officials were faced with four homeless Siberian tigers after their owner was evicted from property in Lewis County, south of Olympia.

"Siberian tigers are not pets, should not be pets, and we need to regulate and control this situation," said Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island.

Many counties and cities ban some kinds of exotic animals. Spokane, for example, bans bears, venomous snakes, crocodiles and other "inherently dangerous" animals. King County bans those and more, including primates. But over the years, the Senate had until Tuesday proved an impossible hurdle for ban proponents.

"It's really been an uphill, crazy battle," said Jennifer Hillman, with the Humane Society of the United States. Monkeys and other primates can get aggressive - sexually aggressive - when they reach puberty, she said.

"They are not necessarily friendly," she said.

All four of the Siberian tigers ended up at Cat Tales, a zoological park north of Spokane. Game farms, zoos, circuses, research facilities, sanctuaries and similar facilities would be exempt from the ban.

Proponents say the ban is a matter of public safety. Neighbors shouldn't have to worry about loose hyenas, they say, and firefighters and police called to a home shouldn't find themselves face to face with 700-pound tigers.

About a third of the Senate voted no, however. Some lawmakers said it's going too far to ban monkeys and other cute primates as pets.

"I would say that if you had a rhinoceros in your home, we could probably rule that one out," conceded Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam. But the bill, he said, includes a lot of very gentle primates.

"Little lemur monkeys, for instance," said Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen, D-Eatonville. "They're a handful. They're little. They don't hurt anybody."

Also, Hargrove said, while the bill would protect city-dwellers from bears, mambas, kraits and bushmasters, rural Washingtonians must continue to live alongside dangerous wild cougars. And in most cases, state law prohibits hunting cougars with hounds.

"But no, that's a natural animal," Hargrove said sarcastically. "And if a natural animal eats somebody that lives in one of those areas, then we don't need to be concerned about that. ... I think we've got a little bit of a dual standard here." House Bill 1418

Protecting consumers from the keeping of dangerous wild animals.