This was a response from the PA State Game Commission when they were emailed from another forum. It is almost a year old though:
"Subject: RE: Why are sugar gliders illegal?
The harm done by introducing non-indigenous wildlife is well documented. For many decades people either deliberately or unintentionally brought wildlife, plants, insects, etc. from other states or countries into Pennsylvania with harmful and sometimes disastrous results that we still live with today.
As early as the mid 1800’s, the English sparrow and European starling were brought to the United States from Europe and released into the wild in New York City. These two species of birds are common now throughout the US and are the only two wild birds that are not given protection under the law in PA. The reason for this is the damaging and disruptive effect they have on the native wildlife. They have also become pests to humans, particularly farmers, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of losses in feedlots and costing an equal amount in damage control.
At about the same time, the gypsy moth, native to Europe and Asia, was introduced in Boston. It has now spread across the country as well, costing the commonwealth and private owners of forest land millions of dollars in lost oak timber and control methods as their caterpillars defoliate acres and acres of our forests ultimately killing the trees and altering the structure of our state’s forests.
The rabies epidemic that began in the early 1980’s is a direct result of diseased raccoons transported from Florida and released in northern Virginia. The disease spread across West Virgina into PA throughout the raccoon, skunk and fox populations costing the taxpayer large sums in surveillance and control that still continues. The USDA is currently attempting to stop the westward spread of rabies into Ohio by disseminating oral vaccine at a very high cost.
The west nile virus entering the country in the area of New York City in 1999 has resulted in nearly 10,000 reported cases and 250 human deaths in the US alone and considerable loss of wildlife and livestock. It has been diagnosed in 44 states. The cost of surveillance, diagnosis and treatment is substantial. The means of entry into the US is unknown. Prior to this, the disease was never reported in North America. The virus is carried by mosquitoes, and may well have entered the US via an imported bird or mammal.
Chronic wasting disease of cervids is spreading in the US. Those states where it occurs are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect their native wildlife populations from this disease that has the potential to eliminate captive bred and free ranging deer and elk. Entire herds of captive animals and hundreds of free ranging animals are being depopulated (exterminated) in order to remove potential vectors and arrest the progress of the disease in a number of western and Midwestern states. This disease is believed to have entered Wisconsin in infected stock transported from an endemic western state. Import bans and restrictions are in place.
The monkey pox virus entered Texas in 2003 in a shipment of rodents imported from Africa carrying the virus. That virus then infected prairie dogs that were held with the rodents at a pet distributor in Illinois. The prairie dogs, then sold as pets, infected humans, prompting a federal ban of all rodents from Africa and a ban on movement of prairie dogs. Although not as infectious as smallpox, this new disease is a significant health risk. Prior to this, the disease was never reported outside of Africa. In less than a year after it’s introduction, it has infected nearly 100 people in six midwestern states, fortunately with no fatalities.
Most recently is the SARS epidemic that cost hundreds of human lives in China, Canada and elsewhere in the world. This virus is linked to civets (an animal related to the mongoose) in the orient. Chinese officials have recently exterminated thousands of these animals in an effort to eliminate the disease pool and control the spread of this disease. Fortunately, no infected civets were exported, but what if… This highly infectious and deadly disease could easily have been introduced into the US by one civet entering the country.
Viruses in non-human primates have been linked to AIDS in humans. It is well established that non-human primates can transmit a host of parasites and diseases to humans and vice-versa.
These are only some of the agents of concern. The cost of battling them is enormous in dollars, human sickness and deaths and damage to our native plants and animals.
In each of these cases, wildlife, in and of itself, or serving as a vector for a disease, was introduced, transported or held captive by man with a very costly result.
Obtaining unusual animals as pets is becoming more popular. With this trend comes case after case where humans are harmed in some way, even killed, by captive wild animals of all descriptions. Big cats, bears, wolves, primates and even deer being held as personal pets, injuring their owners or a member of the public, often small children. The state of Florida is currently battling with escaped or released exotics pets that are now present in the wild in sufficient numbers that they are finding members of their own species to breed with. Dangerous water monitors (large lizards) are now ranging free in residential areas. Parrots are nesting on electric poles causing blackouts. Twenty foot- long Burmese pythons are appearing in some residential areas.
In 1983, Act 60 was passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature amending the Game Law of the time. It regulated exotics and the PA Game Commission was given the duty to enforce this new law. Since then, the law was amended and additional regulations were adopted to bolster this law as necessary. These regulations are to accomplish several purposes:
First, to protect the public from physical harm by potentially dangerous animals and provide for the health and care of animals in captivity.
Also, to protect the public and the environment from unnatural pathogens (diseases).
And finally, to protect the native wildlife of the commonwealth against unnatural competition that upsets the natural balance of the ecosystem should these animals escape or be released to the wild. The Pennsylvania Constitution mandates that the government conserve and maintain our natural resources for all, including generations yet to come. Putting our wildlife resource at risk by allowing the loosely regulated importation of non-native and potentially injurious wildlife would arguably be failing in that mandate.
All these considerations obviously exceed any possible argument or rationalization offered by those individuals who wish to have these many and various species for pets serving no other purpose than personal gratification. How do we know which animal will be the next carrier of disease or what that disease will be? Something as innocuous as a mouse can carry a disease or harbor the agent for it. Three years ago, no one in the US heard of the West Nile virus. Before last year, no one heard of SARS or monkey pox. Should we all have to incur the risk so a small segment of the population can have an unusual pet or in some cases realize financial gain by breeding and selling these animals? Should we even condone the breeding of these animals for the pet trade?
Several states completely ban the importation and possession of non- indigenous wildlife and others are following suit. More legislators are seeing it for what it is.
In Title 34 PaCS (the Game and Wildlife Code) and 58 Pa Code (rules and regulations attendant to Title 34) are found the legal basis for restricting exotics in PA. Unfortunately, there is no single place to go to find all that addresses this issue. It is admittedly complicated to a layman. Some passages clearly define groups or species and others very broadly define them. Many of the animals that are the subject of questions are not mentioned specifically in any section of the law or the regulations but are included in a broader definition, also a source of confusion for the layman. Without quoting each section, I’ll list those that pertain to this issue and discuss their content. Definitions are found in Title 34 sections102 and 2961 and in Title 58 section 147.2. In these sections, wildlife (wild birds and wild animals) is defined as well as exotic wildlife. All members of the family Felidae (cats), Canidae(dogs) and Ursidae(bears) are considered exotics. Except, of course, domestic dogs and cats. Exotics may be possessed under the authority of any one of three different permits: An exotic possession permit, which allows the permittee to simply hold an individual animal in captivity according to the permit provisions. An exotic dealer permit, which allows the permittee to buy, sell and hold multiple animals of a species listed on the permit, again according to the permit provisions. Finally, a menagerie permit, which I’ll discuss shortly. Other non-indigenous species may not be imported or possessed under Title 58 section 137.1.a(10). This broad regulation prohibits any animal (species) which is captive bred or held outside Pennsylvania and effectively eliminates primates, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, prairie dogs and many other non native animals from being imported, possessed, sold or released. This regulation took effect in 1992. Those who possessed these, now illegal animals, prior to the regulation taking effect were ‘grandfathered’ as to the possession, but were not permitted to sell or otherwise transfer those animals or their progeny within PA. The exception to this is a zoological park or nationally recognized circus or person that has a menagerie permit. The menagerie permit allows the holder to possess these non indigenous animals as well as exotics but requires that the animals be held for the purpose of exhibiting to the public, not for personal pet purposes. Menageries may only sell to other menageries.
Certain of these definitions and regulations and the agency’s authority to promulgate them is being challenged now in court in the Sandra Reynolds case. This case, when decided, will hopefully either strengthen the validity of our regulations or point out those areas that need to be changed to maintain the intent of the law.
A number of arguments are made in favor of allowing possession of these animals and against our response to these situations. Some are legal arguments but most are more emotional and self- serving.
Most often, reference is made to the regulations being confusing and difficult to understand. How is the public supposed to know what they can and cannot do? This is a fair question. Although the regulations are not that difficult to understand, they are not found at one place in the law. The best way to check is to call us. We answer these questions daily.
We have been told that people have, in good faith, contacted the Game Commission prior to or shortly after obtaining an animal and were given a variety of answers, some wrong. I cannot deny that that may have occurred. Most PGC employees are not exposed to this issue daily and the regulations have changed over the past decade. Incorrect or misleading responses to inquiries may have been made. In order to correct this, I am having all calls regarding wildlife possession directed to regional office law enforcement staff or The Bureau of Law Enforcement in Harrisburg. We intend to make our best effort to give the public accurate and complete responses to their concerns.
Further, in an effort to consolidate these various passages of law and regulation, we are contacting other states to review their regulations on this issue. Looking at our strengths and weaknesses, perhaps we can develop regulations that are more easily understood by the public and easier for us to enforce as well. The agency also believes that it is necessary to reclassify some animals and develop lists by species or family that more clearly outline their status. The time may be now to address part of this issue legislatively and there is some interest in the legislature to do just that.
Another common argument is that captive bred and held animals are inspected and given health certificates by the USDA or other licensed veterinarians
so why does the state regulate them beyond that. Further, they argue since they are captive, they are unlikely to be exposed to diseased animals so the risk is very low. The other side of that coin is that since these animals live in very close proximity to humans, if they do become ill with a disease transmissible to humans, it is almost assured that their human keeper will too.
The USDA only licenses and inspects persons who sell or exhibit animals. This leaves a large number of animals that are not contacted by the federal inspectors leaving their regulation to the states. Auctions, such as the Mt. Hope animal auction in Ohio is one source of illegal wildlife imported into PA. Animals sold at such places are supposed to be accompanied by a health certificate completed by an accredited veterinarian
. If that does occur, the examination of the animal conducted to complete that certificate amounts to a visual examination. If the animal is not exhibiting symptoms or clinical signs of a disease, the certificate is issued. This cursory examination is very little protection against the introduction of a foreign pathogen that could enter undetected into PA from animals that have come from all over the US and the world. Animals can appear healthy and develop symptoms months later, after the sale.
Another argument is that our regulations are so restrictive that no one can qualify for these permits. If you make it too difficult to legally own these animals, people will just get them illegally anyway. Following this line of thought amounts to ignoring the true issue for the sake of convenience. Those that knowingly or reasonably should know, yet violate the law can expect to have action taken against them. Active enforcement will result in deterrence and most people will willingly comply.
These permits, which were discussed earlier, are by design, difficult to get. The conditions are demanding and not easily met by the average person. This is to discourage purchases by inexperienced people who lack the knowledge, training, dedication or facilities to properly care for or house such animals. Impulse buyers of exotics may find that they have gotten in over their heads and end up reselling their animal to another unqualified person or worse yet releasing it or at very least keeping it under inhumane, unsafe or insecure conditions. Our regulations address these very concerns.
The issue has been raised of why sportsmen’s dollars from the game fund are being spent on regulating exotics. Why doesn’t The Department of Agriculture handle this? Conservation Officers are not trained and don’t have time to do this. It is not their purpose. Our response is only that the PGC was given the duty to enforce this law when it originally went into effect and has actively tried to fulfill that responsibility. Agriculture may be no better equipped to deal with this issue than the PGC.
Finally, the claim is made that since these animals are tame, they can no longer be considered ‘wild’ and that the game commission has no authority over animals held in captivity. They cite Title 3, Agriculture, Section 2303, where it defines ‘domestic animal’ as one that is maintained in captivity. However, Title 1, General Provisions, Section 1991 defines’ domestic animal’ as any equine, bovine, sheep, goat or pig. Title 34, Game and Wildlife Code, section 102 defines ‘wild animal ’as all mammals other than domestic animals defined in Title 1, Sec 1991. We believe that the definition in T34 more accurately addresses the classification of these animals as intended, not the definition in the Agriculture Code. To see it otherwise would be to agree that any animal from any source suddenly becomes domestic just by placing it in a cage or enclosure.
Regardless of the outcome of the current court cases or the state of the laws and regulations in the future, I feel comfortable in saying that the next person that is injured, the next disease that is introduced into the country or the state or the next pest species that escapes into the wild will not be because the Game Commission failed to do everything reasonable to prevent it."