WV Gov. Tomblin signs 'Dangerous Wild Animals Act' - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV Gov. Tomblin signs 'Dangerous Wild Animals Act'

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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed the Dangerous Wild Animals Act into law March 21.

The West Virginia Senate passed the act, House Bill 4393, on March 6, while the measure passed the West Virginia House of Delegates by a vote of 69-23.

The bill was amended in the Senate Agriculture committee to exclude the sale of snakes longer than six feet in pet stores. Any snake indigenous to West Virginia and sold in a pet store would still be allowed, even if the snake is longer than six feet, under the proposed bill.

Sen. Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier, said he was concerned the Mountain State does not have the legislation many other states do when it came to dangerous wild animals.

"These are exotic animals," Miller said.

Members of the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 22-11. 

This is the first time such a piece of legislation has been passed since advocates began pushing for it for several years.

Under the bill, dangerous would mean "a mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian or aquatic animal, including a hybrid, that is dangerous to humans, other animals or the environment due to its inherent nature and capability to do significant harm."

The bill also creates a "Dangerous Wild Animals Board," which bans anyone from owning "dangerous wild animals," but the board may issue permits for any wild animals people have before the law would go into effect.

The board would be made up of members of the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources and the director of DNR - the board is tasked to come up with a comprehensive list of dangerous wild animals.

The bill, as it is written, requires the board to establish minimum cage requirements, and spells out that dangerous animals must include:
bears; large cats including lions, jaguars, leopards, tigers, clouded leopards, cheetah, cougar or mountain lion; non-human primates; constricting snakes including boa constrictor, all subspecies, anaconda, Indian python, reticulate python and rock python; alligators; poisonous snakes, including cobras, coral snakes, sea snakes, adders, vipers, pit vipers, all venomous rear-fanged species.

The board also would be required to establish permit requirements and the fee amount for permits. A person could apply for a permit to possess a dangerous wild animal. 

Several exemptions to the bill include not applying institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, an animal control or law-enforcement agency or officer, licensed or accredited research medical institution, licensed veterinary hospitals or clinics treating dangerous wild animals, a circus, a person displaying dangerous wild animals at a fair or festival that has been pre-approved by the board and a person temporarily transporting a dangerous wild animal through the state if the transit time is not more than 48 hours and the animal is at all times confined.

Violation of the new law would be a misdemeanor charge, but a person who intentionally releases a dangerous wild animal or unlawfully has a dangerous wild animal that does not cause injury is guilty of a misdemeanor with a higher fine, and a person who intentionally releases or has a dangerous wild animal that injures an individual would be guilty of a felony with a really high fine. There also would be a civil penalty.

The Humane Society of the United States, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the International Fund for Animal Welfare praised Tomblin's decision.

"There's no good reason for private citizens to keep dangerous wild animals as pets on their property and thankfully that day has come to an end," said Summer Wyatt, West Virginia state director for The HSUS. "We are grateful to Gov. Tomblin and the legislature for standing firm on this issue, and working to protect animal welfare and public safety. West Virginia now joins the majority of states across the country in taking decisive action on this issue."
 
With Tomblin's signature, there now are five states with little to no restrictions on the private possession of dangerous wild animals — Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wisconsin.