July 03--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gorillas and chimpanzees are clearly banned in the state's latest version of a proposed dangerous and wild animal list, made available for public comment Wednesday.
While the list clears up some issues noted on early versions, there could still be some changes -- the list prohibits all rabbits and hares -- that need to be made.
"If some things need to be spelled out further, thats what needs to take place," said Butch Antolini, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture.
The state does not plan to ban domestic rabbits, which the state veterinarian believes are covered by a part of law exempt in the new rule, Antolini said.
Noting people's passion for their pets, Antolini said they expect many comments.
"The rule is out there with the list for the public to send in their feedback on it, and we want them to do that. That's why it's out there," Antolini said.
The list, available at the department's website and www.charlestondailymail.com, is contained in a proposed legislative rule filed Wednesday with the Secretary of State. Filing the rule for public comment is the next step in the long process before the list of banned animals becomes law, which requires approval by the state Legislature.
Right now there are few restrictions on animal ownership in West Virginia. People can't own wild species native to the state, but animals likes lions or chimpanzees aren't regulated.
Exotic animal ownership exists in the state: earlier this week law enforcement found a roughly 3-foot-long alligator in the backyard of a Huntington home. The police didn't immediately know if the people who owned the alligator -- potentially enticed into the yard by the neighbor's pet rabbit -- violated any state or city laws by keeping the creature as a pet, according to the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.
The new state law, passed this year, was first proposed following the 2011 release of dozens of exotic animals from a private zoo in Zanesville, Ohio. It took several years for the law to pass, following concerns by current animals owners in the state.
Most of the animals on the list are the same as those included in the first draft: elephants, piranha, several types of pythons and whales are still prohibited.
Following questions about the initial list though, there are several noticeable changes. The initial draft list said all primates "except those in family Hominidae" were banned. That particular family includes gorillas and chimpanzees.
Saying it made a typo, the Wild and Dangerous Animal Board clarified it would be banning those animals. The current list says all non-human primates are banned.
The new list also includes potentially sweeping exemptions for animals like pigs, cows, sheep and goats. The rule says "domestic animals, traditional livestock and alternative livestock" are regulated by the Agriculture department under a different section of state law and are exempt from the list.
Previously, the list specifically outlined some of those exemptions but didn't include an overall exemption. That list left in question whether Alpaca, an animal similar to a llama becoming popular as livestock for its fur, would be banned.
After the release of the first draft list, Antolini said he thought Alpaca were covered under livestock in state code. Although there is no specific mention of Alpaca or their scientific order in state law, the exemption also includes a vast array of legislative rules which could cover the animals.
Wednesday Antolini said he was positive Alpaca were exempt, but needed to check with the state veterinarian to find where in the code or legislative rules they are covered. The veterinarian wasn't immediately available.
Antolini thinks it's the same case with rabbits and hares. While neither animal nor their scientific order are mentioned specifically in state code, it's very likely domestic rabbits as pets or rabbits as livestock are covered in the large body of legislative rules cited as exempt in the new draft rule, Antolini said.
Several of the more contentious animals are still on the list.
After publishing the initial draft, the Daily Mail received many comments about the state's proposal to ban animals like sugar gliders and hedgehogs but allow zebras. Zebras are still exempt, with hedgehogs and sugar gliders -- small mammals similar to flying squirrels -- are still banned.
All toads, salamanders and turtles are also banned. Contrary to a flier circulated on social media, certain types of domestic hamsters, mice, rats and guinea pigs are exempt from the list.
Members of the subcommittee that created the draft list say there is a legitimate reason for every animal on the list.
People who own these animals can still keep them if they are granted a permit by the board. They must abide by several rules in order to receive a permit: they can't breed or replace the animal, they must notify law enforcement if the animal escapes, no one else can handle the animal and the owner must have at least $300,000 in liability insurance, among other requirements.
There is a $100 fee for each permit granted for each animal, according to the proposed rule. It says all permitted animals must be caged in accordance with federal animal welfare laws.
The rule says the board must meet by June 1 every year to discuss proposed changes and submit updates to the Legislature. It must meet by December 1 every year to review permits or to discuss if new animals should be added to the list, according to the rule.
The public comment period is open until August 1. Any comments can be mailed to Jodee Martin at the Department of Agriculture address: 1900 Kanawha Boulevard, East Charleston, WV 25305. Comments can also be emailed to Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or email@example.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.
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