Exotic animal deadline nears as state ends future owners

ODA prepares to phase out new permits for exotic animals
No new permits will be issued as of January 2011
By Oregon Department of Agriculture

Ocelots, lemurs, and Fennec foxes are not going extinct in Oregon. But new state exotic animal permits that allow these species to be owned and held by individuals are about to go by way of the dinosaur. As directed by the 2009 State Legislature, no new permits will be issued by the Oregon Department of Agriculture as of January 2011.

“Oregon’s exotic animal permit law requires people wanting to own certain species to obtain a permit from ODA,” says State Veterinarian Dr. Don Hansen. “However, after the first of the year, the law will prohibit ODA from issuing any new permits. We will continue to renew existing permits to qualified owners, but people only have until January 1, 2011 to apply. Anyone who owns these types of animals needs to be permitted right now. That permit comes with the caveat that they owned these animals through this entire past year but just didn’t have them permitted.”

The message is clear for anyone involved with exotic animals or contemplating owning one.

“After January 1, 2011, the law does not give us any choice, ” says Hansen. “It is illegal for anyone to hold an exotic animal on our list without a permit. We will not be able to issue any new permits after that time.”

Oregon’s exotic animal law requires a permit for the following:

* Felines not indigenous to Oregon, except for domestic cats
* Non-wolf canines not indigenous to Oregon, except for domestic dogs
* Non-human primates
* Bears, with the exception of the black bear
* Members of the crocodile family

The 2009 Legislature amended the law’s definition to include alligators and crocodiles. The other species have been part of the law for many years.

The law is designed to protect the public against health and safety risks posed to the community by exotic animals. Exotics as permitted by ODA are required to be kept in a special holding facility and not allowed out of the cage except to be transported to a veterinarian. ODA inspects the holding facility of these animals to ensure they are secure. Permits are required to be renewed every two-years.

ODA currently has issued 49 permits for 88 exotic animals. Nearly half of those permits (24) are for exotic felines, which include servals, caracals, an ocelot, lynx, margay, and a Geoffray cat. The next largest category of exotic animal permits is for non-human primates (15 permits), which include capuchins, lemurs, Rhesus macaques, tamarins, a squirrel monkey, chimpanzee, vervet, cotton top, and African green. There are three permits for exotic canines, which include Fennec fox and silver red fox. Under the newly amended law, there are three permits for alligators. There are no permits issued for bears.

The sunset of Oregon’s exotic animal permitting will eventually remove all responsibility for permitting animals from ODA. However, the law will still require anyone keeping listed exotic animals to have a permit.

“As long as the currently permitted animal is alive, the owners will be able to have it legally,” says Hansen. “Once the animal dies or the owners are obliged to sell it, that’s the end of the permit. When all the existing permitted animals die or leave the state, no more permits will be issued for animals listed, which was the intention of the legislature when they amended the law.”

The US Department of Agriculture does have a permitting process for exotic animal exhibitors, breeders, and dealers. That permit will remain unchanged. But for Oregonians who simply want to own such an animal- the species listed in the state law- time is running out. In fact, it is too late for anyone who does not currently have the animal or who has not owned the animal for at least a year.

“After January 1, if we discover animals that have not been permitted, the owners will not be able to keep them,” says Hansen. “They will have to give them up or sell them legally to someone out of state.”

Hansen is not overly concerned about driving the issue of exotic animals underground, but he is not naive about what may be going on now and in the future.

“People are going to do what they are going to do,” he says. “We have strong evidence that many exotic animals- particularly felines- are already out there, not permitted, and have never been permitted.”

ODA often finds out about exotic animals listed for sale. When that happens, ODA contacts the involved parties. In the past, that contact resulted in those animals getting permitted in Oregon or legally sold out-of-state. Starting January, that contact will result in the animals being required to be legally sold, or given to someone in another state.

“It might get more confrontational, but I hope not,” says Hansen. “Before, we could talk to people and get them to obtain a permit. Now we don’t have that ability. We’ll have to tell them they simply can’t have that animal. The law won’t let us go any other direction.”

Most states do not permit exotic animals. These species are either unregulated or the states have laws that specifically prohibit the exotics. Oregon is now in the transition of joining the latter.

For those exotic pets already permitted, there will no change. But time is up for any new ones.

For more information, contact Dr. Don Hansen at (503) 986-4680.

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