For immediate release: January 1, 2008
Contact: Capt. Linda Harrison or Capt. John West, 850-488-6253

New Year (2008) brings additional requirements for wildlife owners

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has established new rules for people who possess or exhibit wildlife that recently came into effect or will become effective at the beginning of 2008.

As of Jan. 1, people licensed to possess captive wildlife, nonnative venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern must have a Captive Wildlife Critical Incident and Disaster Plan. This plan outlines how owners or exhibitors should secure or evacuate their animals in the event of natural disasters and critical incidents. Additionally, people licensed to possess or exhibit Class I wildlife, nonnative venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern must report any escape immediately to the FWC's Division of Law Enforcement.

Class I wildlife - such as lions, bears, crocodiles, chimpanzees and rhinoceros - are defined as wildlife posing a significant danger to people.

"These new rules are for the protection and welfare of people and the wildlife," said Capt. Linda Harrison of FWC's Investigations Section. "We hope to prevent problems. The requirement of this plan gives permittees something to think about. If an escape or natural disaster should occur, it is better to be prepared to adequately respond to the situation."

Exhibiting wildlife will require some establishments and private wildlife owners to pay more. In 2007, the bond for exhibiting venomous reptiles increased from $1,000 to $10,000. Effective Feb. 1, people or businesses exhibiting Class I captive wildlife will be required to provide a surety bond or a financial responsibility guarantee of $10,000 or maintain $2 million in general comprehensive liability insurance, with $2 million required per occurrence.

Anyone who possesses a Class I wildlife permit - with limited exceptions - now must have a minimum of 5 acres of property. Additionally, facilities housing Class I captive wildlife cannot be in areas zoned solely for residential use.

Class II wildlife also can pose a danger to people. They include many species of monkeys, bobcats, cougars, wolves, coyotes and caiman. Class II wildlife owners must now have a minimum of 2 1/2 acres. The FWC will require substantial experience and specific cage and facility requirements to be met before it will issue a permit.

Nonnative venomous reptiles are all species of venomous snakes and lizards that do not occur naturally in Florida. Reptiles of Concern are the Indian or Burmese python, African rock python, amethystine python, reticulated python, green anaconda and Nile monitor lizard. People possessing any venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern must be permitted, paying a fee of $100 per year. They also must meet new, stricter caging and facility requirements.

"Some of these reptile species pose a threat to human life or Florida's native species," Harrison said. "Obviously, venomous reptiles can be hazardous to human health. Nonnative species, which have been released into the wild and thrived, may potentially wreak havoc on native species, which are falling prey to them."

People who possess venomous reptiles are now required to mark cages and enclosures with a card stating, "Danger, Venomous Reptile." The card must identify the reptile, and it also must accompany the reptile when it is removed from its cage. A bite or exposure protocol is required, which provides the name of an emergency contact and information on what to do should a bite occur.

People who own nonnative venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern for personal use must have the animals permanently identified. Nonnative venomous reptiles must be identified by photograph or by implantation of a passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag, also referred to as a microchip. Reptiles of Concern must be permanently identified by implantation of a PIT tag. The PIT tag number and specimen information must be maintained in the owner's records. 

Owners of any nonnative venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern acquired prior to Jan. 1, 2008, will have until July 1 to meet the PIT tagging requirement. Any specimens acquired after Jan. 1 must be permanently identified when the animal is acquired.

People possessing venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern are also required to keep records of changes in inventory, which are a result of births, deaths, acquisition, sales or transfers. Records must be readily available for inspection by FWC personnel. These records also must be submitted to the FWC.  People who sell venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern must submit these records twice a year: once upon application and again six months later. People who possess venomous reptiles or Reptiles of Concern for personal use must submit these records upon application and when there is an inventory change. On July 1, 2007, red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) became listed as a Conditional Species. People who acquired red-eared slider turtles after July 1, 2007, must have a permit. No permit will be issued for personal possession.

People who possess red-eared sliders acquired before July 1, 2007, may keep those specimens without a permit until they are legally transferred or disposed of. After July 1, 2008, however, no one may have a red-eared slider as a pet that is less than 4 inches in size. Those owning the turtles legally may not allow them to reproduce, and all eggs must be destroyed.

It is illegal to release any nonnative species into the wild in Florida. As of this year, penalties for certain captive-wildlife-law violations have increased, and in some instances, people who repeatedly violate captive wildlife laws and rules can be charged with a felony.

"In a situation where we have a repeat offender of captive wildlife rules, the perpetrator will face increased minimum fines or penalties for additional convictions. Repeat offenders may even lose their license or permit," Harrison said. "In some instances, the perpetrator could be charged with a third-degree felony, with a fine of up to $5,000 and possible imprisonment for up to five years, although in most situations, that would not be the case."

"We would prefer to educate people about responsibly owning and exhibiting wildlife." To learn more about wildlife ownership and exhibition laws or to obtain permits, visit MyFWC.com/permits.



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