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MINNESOTA SENATE: Proposal takes aim at exotic pets

February 19th, 2004, 08:40 AM
MINNESOTA SENATE: Proposal takes aim at exotic pets


Pioneer Press

Lions, monkeys and bears would be banned as pets in Minnesota under a bill that cleared its first hurdle Wednesday.

A Senate committee approved a proposal intended to keep Minnesotans from buying new big cats, primates and bears as pets or breeding those they already have. The move came just weeks after four tigers and a camel were found dead on a private farm near Pelican Rapids. Several tiger maulings have been reported across the nation.

In the face of opposition from owners of petting zoos and exotic-animal shows, senators on the Agriculture, Veterans and Gaming Committee amended the bill to largely exempt them from many restrictions. Major zoos such as the Como and Minnesota zoos as well as wildlife sanctuaries and game farms were exempt already.

"We see this as basic common-sense public safety," said Olmsted County Sheriff Steve Borchardt. He serves as executive director of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, which supports the bill, along with the Minnesota Animal Control Association and the Minnesota Zoo. "When you're a sheriff, you worry about these things."

Some 15,000 big cats are believed to be kept as pets nationally. Hundreds of Internet sites offer big cats, monkeys and other exotic animals for sale. Others give advice on capturing animals in the wild.

In 2003, captive big cats injured more people nationally than ever before, according to the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition. Three people died and at least 14 were injured, including the high-profile maulings of entertainer Roy Horn and the man who raised a 600-pound Bengal tiger in his Harlem apartment. In 2004, one person has died and two have been injured.

Bemidji fourth-grader Dale Davy, who helped raise a lion cub owned by the Paul Bunyan Animal Land in Bemidji for his science fair project, was among those who persuaded the senators to allow exotic-animal business owners more leeway.

"We want to do just as much as you to protect the public safety," said Animal Land owner Caara Holmstrom told the committee. "But not if it means going out of business."

It's residents like the one who kept a bear named Thor in a renovated pool and took him for walks in city parks that trouble Bill Forbes, a Bloomington animal control officer and a representative of the Minnesota Animal Control Association.

The city like many suburbs passed an ordinance prohibiting exotic animals. Later, they heard the bear had injured someone in its new home in Kandiyohi County.

"We ran the bear out of town, but we didn't stop it from affecting public safety," Forbes said.

Now Forbes hopes the Legislature will regulate what his city couldn't control beyond its borders.

Details will be worked out before the bill moves to the Senate Judiciary Committee next month.