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Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2005

State considering tighter restrictions on exotic animals

October 20, 2005

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— Two months after his daughter was killed by a captive Siberian tiger, Randy Hilderbrand has channeled his grief into efforts to make sure the same tragedy does not happen to another Kansas family.

Proposed tighter controls on ownership of exotic animals in the state - which advocates want to be dubbed "Haley's Rule" - will be up for discussion Thursday at the Kansas Wildlife and Parks meeting in Kinsley.

"When they can put a face to something, it makes it real," Hilderbrand said.

The Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission has talked about stricter regulation of exotic animals since last year. The issue garnered more public attention since Haley Hilderbrand was mauled to death while she was having her senior class photos taken.

Kansas does not ban ownership of most exotic cats, but a state permit is required to keep bears, wolves or mountain lions. Several counties do restrict exotic animal ownership.

One proposal under consideration would require federal permits for owners of exotic cats, bears or wolves. That would put their regulation under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The wildlife commission has considered several options, from banning private ownership of exotic animals to requiring state residents to follow federal regulations.

Hilderbrand and the Massachusetts-based International Fund for Animal Welfare are pushing for a complete ban on the ownership of big cats or any dangerous exotic wildlife in Kansas. They want exceptions allowed for only legitimate zoos or sanctuaries licensed by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

Hilderbrand said the tiger that killed his daughter was at a USDA-licensed facility, and he questions whether the USDA rules would be enforced in the state.

"Certainly the public shouldn't have access to these animals - they are dangerous and wild and shouldn't be held in captivity," Hilderbrand said.

The idea to name the regulations for Haley came from the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which contacted Hilderbrand last week to see whether he wanted to become involved in the regulatory process. His 20-year-old son Heath also plans to speak.

"We are hoping that by calling it Haley's Rule, it will remind commissioners and the public that this is a serious rule ... and they have a responsibility to act," said Josephine Martell, campaigns officer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

IFAW estimates there are between 7,000 and 10,000 tigers being kept in captivity, or more than 20,000 exotic animals if lions, leopards and panthers are added to that count.

"It's amazing what people will keep in their back yards," she said. "It is a runaway problem."

Fifteen states now ban keeping those animals as pets, Martell said.

The group contends keeping big cats as pets is a public safety and animal welfare issue.

It cites statistics showing 38 reported big cat incidents last year, including one death and 11 injuries. In addition to Haley's death Aug. 18 at a wildlife park in Mound Valley, a 10-year-old boy was left a quadriplegic after being mauled in Minnesota by a tiger and a lion.

A vote on the issue is not expected Thursday, but a workshop session on it is planned.

The commission also plans to discuss the ecological impacts of wind farms, and issues related to the proposed acquisition of the Circle K Ranch and its impact on stream flows in the Arkansas River.

The meeting, at Edwards County Fairgrounds in Kinsley, begins at 1:30 p.m.

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