Maine eyes changes for exotic pet permits

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AUGUSTA — You won’t be able to keep a gorilla in your garage anytime soon.

But those who do keep or breed exotic animals have until June 17 to weigh in on proposed changes to Maine’s rules that determine which creatures are legal to keep and which aren’t.

Regulated by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, exotic animals include reptiles and amphibians such as snakes and frogs, and more unusual mammals, including lions, elephants and kangaroos.

Nate Webb, a wildlife biologist and special projects coordinator with the department, said the rule changes are needed to implement 2015 tweaks to Maine law meant to clarify the permitting process used by those who want to keep wildlife as pets or put them on exhibit for the public.

Webb said the changes clearly define the types of permits that are needed and spell out the requirements for keeping or exhibiting various categories of exotic species.

While the department has long issued permits and inspected facilities used to house non-domestic animals, the process was done more on a “case-by-case basis,” Webb said.

“The major change is we are making it clear there are species that aren’t allowed in people’s homes as pets,” Webb said.

He said species that present a high risk for the transmission of disease to native wildlife population are the ones most commonly prohibited. The rules will also attempt to spell out what is allowed.

Webb also said that inspections of homes and facilities keeping exotic animals have been conducted in the past by game wardens or state wildlife biologists. The rule change would allow the state to permit third-party inspectors in order to allow DIFW staff to spend less time on the process.

According to a summary, the rule changes provide “consistency for the captive wildlife permitting process as described in statute and will provide safeguards for Maine’s citizens, protect the integrity of Maine’s native species and will allow for inspections of an applicant’s facilities during the application process. The proposal also clarifies which permit is necessary for each type of activity.”

Many animals on the state’s new restricted list will still be allowed under the proposal, but a permit from the DIFW to possess an animal on the list would be required in many cases.

The new rules also include a list of four prohibited species that may not be kept in Maine under any circumstances: the red-eared slider turtle, the monk parakeet, the mute swan and the African clawed frog.

Webb said the species pose a risk of becoming invasive in Maine’s environment and would likely impair the habitats of native wildlife. He said the department has long denied permits for those four species, but their prohibition was never specifically put in the rules.

The rules also spell out how wildlife kept in captivity is to be cared for, including minimum cage or enclosure sizes and mandatory health certificates for certain species. The rules also clarify the specific training and experience required of an individual who wants to keep especially dangerous animals.

Earlier this week, the DIFW hosted a hearing on the proposed changes in Augusta that drew dozens of exotic pet owners and breeders, animal rights activists and DIFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock.

As proposed, the rule changes will increase permit fees and institute fines and fees for people who illegally import a pet on the state’s restricted list. In those cases, an individual would be allowed to keep the animal if it is permitted and they meet all the requirements, Webb said.

A special technical committee has been formed to further refine the list of species allowed and which category of restriction they would be placed in. He said that committee will continue to work on the list. That list, once complete, likely by the end of the year, would also be subject to a public hearing.

There are about 1,300 permits in Maine for exotic pets, Webb said. He said a number of those permits are also for multiple species.

To download a copy of the proposed online go to: www.maine.gov/ifw and click on the Public Hearing Notices/Proposals tab in the lower left-hand side of the page.

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