Movie Stars Want Federal Restrictions on Private Ownership of Exotic Animals

Movie Stars Want Federal Restrictions on Private Ownership of Exotic Animals

By: Staff  Date: 11/9/2000 Category: | Animal Legislation | Animals in Education & Entertainment |

Hollywood celebrities Tippi Hedren, daughter Melanie Griffith, and Kermit the Frog appeared in Washington DC to promote the Shambala Wild Animal Protection Act of 2000, an attempt to tightly restrict private ownership of exotic animals and to limit hunting on game ranches.

The bill was prepared by Shambala for introduction by Representative Tom Lantos, a California Democrat who often supports animal rights causes. It was introduced in late July as H R 5057 and has been sent to the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans for consideration. Committee members are representatives Jim Saxton, New Jersey, Chairman; W. J. (Billy) Tauzin, Louisiana; James V. Hansen, Utah; Wayne T. Gilchrest, Maryland; Richard W. Pombo, California; Walter B. Jones, North Carolina; Mark E. Souder, Indiana; Robin Hayes, North Carolina; Michael K. Simpson, Idaho; Bruce F. Vento, Minnesota; Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon; Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii; Solomon P. Ortiz, Texas; Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey; and Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island.

The bill's co-sponsors are representatives Christopher Shays, Connecticut; Lynn Rivers, Michigan; Constance Morella, Maryland; Richard Neal of Massachusetts; John Edward Porter, Illinois; James P. Moran, Virginia; John Kasich, Ohio; Dennis Kucinich, Ohio; Elton Gallegly, California; Sam Farr, California; Bob Filner, California; Frank Pallone Jr., New Jersey; Nita Lowey, New York; and Fortney Pete Stark, California.


Why Shambala?

Shambala is a wildlife preserve owned by former actress Tippi Hedren. Star of Alfred Hitchcock's horror film The Birds, Hedren collected dozens of lions for use in a film titled Roar and founded the sanctuary to house the lions and their offspring after the filming was done. Griffith was mauled by one of the lions when she was 19 years old.

Griffith wrote on her website: "As some of you may already know, my mother, Tippi Hedren, has an organization called The Roar Foundation/Shambala Preserve. The Roar Foundation is deeply concerned with a serious problem in the United States: the private ownership of wild exotic animals. We all know that lions, tigers, and leopards are cute and cuddly at birth, but they grow up to become unmanageable wild animals. As a result of making wild animals their private pets, owners frequently find themselves in life-threatening situations."


The Shambala bill

  • covers private ownership of wild, exotic, non-native species, subspecies, and hybrids of cats, bears, foxes, wolves, and primates;
  • requires non-transferable permits issued by the Secretary of Agriculture to own or breed the animals;
  • exempts zoos, research facilities, government agencies, animal parks, and wildlife sanctuaries from its provisions;
  • sets standards for wild animal housing and care;
  • restricts import and export of covered animals.


Private ownership

The Long Island Ocelot Club-Endangered Species Conservation Federation promotes responsible private ownership of wild felines as a right and as an adjunct to species conservation by zoos and wildlife preserves.

"The LIOC believes individuals can, through captive breeding programs and record keeping contribute greatly to man's knowledge of these creatures and their preservation," the group's website reports. "The LIOC maintains the individual's right to own and propagate these animals in accordance with sound management practices."

Furthermore, LIOC-ESCF considers private ownership of exotic cats to be a privilege as well as a right, a privilege extended to those who provide safe housing and appropriate veterinary care to the animals, protect the public from the potential danger inherent in keeping wild animals in captivity, and comply with all local, state, and federal regulations.

The Phoenix Exotic Wildlife Association also champions the private ownership of exotic animals as long as health, safety, and legal obligations are met.

The Ohio Association of Animal Owners is adamant that the federal government should not regulate private ownership of animals, according to association secretary Polly Ward.

Responding to the USDA brochure 1560, a position statement against private ownership of large exotic cats, Ward said: "Our position is that the Animal Welfare Act authorizes a federal agency (USDA) to regulate animals in interstate commerce, period. Nothing more."

"Congress' intent in passing the AWA never had anything to do with non-commercial (pet) activity in animals. Therefore, this position statement is totally inappropriate for the USDA to have made. They have overstepped their bounds by taking a position on something that, constitutionally, is the responsibility of the individual states, not the federal government. Individual states are the ones with any authority over non-commercial activities."

USDA released brochure 1560 in February. According to the brochure, USDA "believes that only qualified, trained professionals should keep these animals, even if they are only to be pets" because they are dangerous. Without differentiating between responsible and irresponsible ownership of these animals or acknowledging that professional associations provide information about housing and care, the pamphlet claims that privately-held animals cause injuries and deaths, and when owners can no longer keep them, are killed for their pelts and meat.

Proponents of responsible private ownership disagree that privately held animals are to blame for most injuries; instead, they claim that the majority of incidents involve exhibitors who are already required to have a license.



What you can do

For more information about the Shambala Bill and responsible private ownership of exotic animals, visit the Phoenix website (

For information about exotic feline ownership, visit the LIOC website (

For a copy of the Shambala Bill, visit Thomas, the legislative website, at and search for HR 5057.

To comment on the bill, send a letter to representative Jim Saxton, Chairman, House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans, 339 Cannon House Office Building, Washington DC 20515, and send a copy to your own representative, especially if he is a cosponsor or a committee member . You can also contact representatives by e-mail at

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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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