The Commonwealth of Virginia will lose valuable resources currently offered to state and local animal and wildlife agencies, school systems, library systems, and the tourism industry, if SENATE BILL NO. 477 is passed.
An entire professional community of law abiding, tax paying Virginia citizens will be penalized due to the act of a single mentally ill individual in Ohio if the proposed code in SENATE BILL NO. 477 is passed.
As the founder and director of Reptiles Alive LLC, a successful outreach wildlife education organization, I currently provide jobs to four Virginia citizens and support my family with the income I earn in my professional endeavors. I am not alone – there is an entire industry of tax paying, law-abiding Virginia citizens and their families who will be financially damaged if SENATE BILL NO. 477 is passed.
SENATE BILL NO. 477 will exempt organizations accredited by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The majority of wildlife organizations, including mine, are not AZA accredited. The AZA is a private association, a “club”, which has developed its own accreditation requirements without any public input or oversight. The requirements to become an accredited member in the AZA are unreasonable for most private organizations and family run businesses. Most AZA facilities are operated using tax dollars collected from state and county citizens.
I have been licensed by the Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) as a Wildlife Exhibitor and Wildlife Rehabilitator since 1993. During this time, my staff and I have presented educational live animal shows to approximately 850,000 people. We receive no funding from state or local government agencies to educate the public about wildlife and other environmental issues – including most of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL’s) in Science. We are a self-sufficient environmental education organization and provide a tremendous educational resource to Virginia students, schools, and citizens.
The passage of SENATE BILL NO. 477 will be a huge loss for Virginia environmental education.Across the Commonwealth of Virginia, hundreds of thousands of students and other citizens are exposed, by non-AZA wildlife professionals, to environmental concepts deemed important by the Virginia Department of Education. There is no way the handful of AZA member organizations in Virginia will be able to make up for the loss of the permitted Wildlife Exhibitors currently teaching environmental education in Virginia.
I have also offered my services, at no charge, to the VDGIF and various local animal control agencies. These free services have included: providing housing for exotic reptiles involved in court cases; identification of exotic reptiles; removal of exotic reptiles from hotel rooms, abandoned and condemned buildings; assistance with husbandry of exotic reptiles in state or county custody; advice to animal control and VDGIF officers dealing with boids, venomous snakes and crocodilians; and finally, providing permanent, safe housing for reptiles that had no where else to go.
If SENATE BILL NO. 477 is passed, it will not stop people from owning exotic animals, especially the snakes, listed in the proposal. However, it will end the assistance the Commonwealth and local Virginia jurisdictions receive from many of the professionals who currently help with animal situations when needed.
AZA facilities will not make up for the loss of the non-AZA state licensed wildlife exhibitors and permitted animal rescue groups. AZA facilities rarely, if ever, take in “rescued” animals. Private organizations including non-AZA zoos and wildlife exhibitors, licensed by the state, regularly assist in the placement of such animals.
At Reptiles Alive LLC, nearly all of the animals we have in our collection have to come us from local animal control agencies, game wardens, or citizens who no longer could provide care for their pet. Outlawing the ownership of certain species (especially Boids) will not eliminate them from being privately kept in Virginia. If these species are outlawed, the disposition options for unwanted or confiscated animals will be primarily limited to euthanasia.
I agree that the ownership of the species listed in SENATE BILL NO. 477 should be regulated – and the Commonwealth of Virginia already has such regulations successfully in place. As a state licensed Wildlife Exhibitor, each year I must submit to the VDGIF my: Permit to Exhibit Wild Animals application; list of species to be exhibited; annual wildlife exhibitor report; and a $50 fee. An annual inspection of my facility along with the possibility of unannounced inspections from a state game warden is part of the conditions of my permit. I carry a liability insurance policy and a Workers Compensation policy that covers the activities Reptiles Alive LLC engages in.
It will not cost the Commonwealth any additional taxpayer dollars to continue the permitting and wildlife enforcement process it already has in place.
The passing of SENATE BILL NO. 477 does not make sense for the Commonwealth of Virginia or its citizens.
Reptiles Alive LLC