Penalties increased for bad exotic animal owners

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 Exotic animal owners will pay much stiffer penalties in the future, if they fail to obey Maine’s exotic animal laws and rules, thanks to the Maine legislature and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Senator Scott Cyrway did a superb of job of advocating for this bill that I proposed. He really should get a lot of the credit for the positive result, including bringing DIF&W on board after they initially opposed the bill, LD 91.

Exotic animal owners who have a permit, but fail to notify DIF&W if their animal gets lost, will now be cited for a Class E crime which increases the fines and includes jail time. Those who own exotic animals without the required permit, and/or fail to notify DIF&W when their animals get loose will be cited for a Class D crime, also with increased fines and jail time.

Cyrway also emphasized the need to require chips to be placed in the most dangerous animals, to identify their owners, and DIF&W, which has the authority now to do that, indicated that they would do this.

Work Session

The work sessions on this bill were very interesting and informative. DIF&W’s Jim Connolly, in charge of both the Fisheries and the Wildlife Divisions, is right on top of all of these issues, and provided lots of information about the current situation and process.

The agency is in the process of creating four categories for exotic animals, and will be taking their proposed rules to public hearings in August. It was good news that they are taking this responsibility very seriously.

“If we make a mistake, and something gets here and loose and changes the landscape, that’s a devastating action on our part,” Connolly told the committee.

The four lists are Unrestricted Species, Prohibited Species, and two categories of Restricted species. One Restricted list limits the species to very specific reasons including some public benefit. I was surprised to learn that there are only 5 or 6 animals on the prohibited list, and more than 3000 on the unrestricted list.  The agency has issued about 150 permits for restricted species.

But Judy Camuso, Wildlife Division Director, noted that the problem is not those with permits, it’s those who should get permits but don’t.

My Motivation

                Our legislation would have required a permit to possess all exotic animals in Maine, and require the owners of exotics to notify the Maine Warden Service if their exotic animal gets loose along with any neighbors within that animal’s range of travel.

                How would you like to have been the couple in Veazie who woke up to a shocking surprise slithering around in their shower: a 3-foot-long ball python? The python’s owner acknowledged that the python escaped its tank a month earlier.

                Or how about the 3 ½ foot python that showed up in a Fairfield apartment, trying to eat the residents’ pet parakeets. Fairfield police arrived and confiscated the snake, which was given to the Maine Warden Service, which either took it to an animal rehab facility or, more likely, killed it.

                And this isn’t just about snakes. In 2012 a Eurasian wild boar was shot by a hunter in Somerset County, after it killed a domestic pig. Ten fallow deer were rounded up in Nobleboro one year. And a 2-foot long lizard was captured by Camden police in 2013.

                As someone who has been an advocate for our native animals for decades, I hate to think of the impact of some of these species if they get loose. Jim Connolly is right about that. I suggested that we might want to treat all exotics like we treat hybrid wolves. They must be registered, micro-chipped, and neutered or spayed.

                As the work session ranged from Geckos to African Clawed Frogs (Jim said some folks are concerned about these frogs introducing diseases), I couldn’t help but remember something Jim said at a meeting a few years ago: “I have a basic concern: should the department be considering any request from anywhere in the world, just because somebody wants to have something.”

                Great question Jim!

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