Citing safety concerns and animal-welfare issues, the Arizona Game and Fish Department recently updated a handful of its provisions regulating domestic and captive wildlife.
Notable changes include:
- The ability to keep hedgehogs as pets.
- A ban on all non-human primates (exceptions include zoos, research facilities, and those who already own one).
- A prohibition on allowing native desert tortoises to reproduce in captivity.
- A requirement that all birds listed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act be considered restricted live wildlife in the state.
- The addition of red shiner fish, certain species of tilapia, paddlefish, sturgeon, Chinese mystery snail, and false dark mussel to the list of non-native wildlife that pose a significant threat to native species in Arizona.
State Game and Fish updates its wildlife rules every five years, and changes are signed into law following extensive review, public comment and approval by the Governor’s Regulatory Review Council.
AZGFD says the rules are amended “to increase effectiveness” in regulating and protecting wildlife while also safeguarding human health.
Keeping hedgehogs as pets may be all the rage across the country, but the department says it decided to allow them primarily because they pose little threat of escaping and becoming an invasive nuisance: “Arizona has plenty of natural predators and a minimal amount of suitable habitat [for hedgehogs],” AZGFD says.
The changes concerning non-human primates were slightly more complex, but the department summarized its decision by saying: “Non-human primates are known to be injurious to the public and have the potential to have or carry dangerous diseases that can have a significant impact on human health, [and] the conditions in which privately owned non-human primates are kept raise serious animal welfare concerns [because] most people cannot provide the special care, social grouping, housing, diet, and maintenance that non-human primates require.”
According to the AZGFD, non-human primates can be difficult to toilet-train, and “sometimes engage in distasteful activities involving their feces and urine.”
What’s more, “as the non-human primate grows older, stronger, and more unpredictable, they may turn aggressively on anyone, including the person with whom they are the closest.
“As a primate reaches sexual maturity, it will often become more aggressive and may start biting or fighting people to establish dominance, including attacking their owners or visitors to the owner's home. With larger primates, these behaviors can turn dangerous or even deadly for humans; as in the  case of the Connecticut woman who lost her face and hands after being mauled by a friend's 200-pound chimpanzee.”
And if that’s not scary enough, non-human primates carry and can transmit the following zoonotic diseases to people: “monkey pox, simian herpes B virus, simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV, the primate form of HIV), measles, rabies, Marburg virus, cercopithecine herpes virus I, salmonella, influenza virus, filoviruses (ebola), streptococcus pneumonia, viral hepatitis, and tuberculosis.”
According to the AZGFD, “most of these diseases [are] spread through a bite or exposure to the saliva or nasal secretions of the non-human primate, while others [are] spread through exposure to non-human primate feces.”
Unable to control a violent, possibly disease-carrying and feces-throwing pet primate, most people end up trying to sell the animals, or drop them off at exotic animal sanctuaries, which typically are at or near capacity and therefore struggle to house the constant influx of new animals.
By making pet ownership illegal, the AZGFD hopes also to help mitigate the lucrative non-human primate trade in this country. The department estimates that there are a few thousand non-human primates bred in captivity each year in the U.S. because they are “viewed as status symbols or substitute children” and because people underestimate the responsibility of caring for one.
Under the new regulations, only zoos and research facilities legally can keep non-human primates, although people who already have one can be grandfathered in so long as they register the animal with the state.
Twenty-two states currently ban private ownership of non-human primates: Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.
Three states have a partial ban: Connecticut, Florida, and Tennessee.
Seven states have a permitting or registration process for keeping non-human primates as pets: Delaware, Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wyoming; while three states require a permit to possess some non-human primates as pets, but allow others without a permit: Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin.
Fourteen states allow non-human primates as pets: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Should you get a hedgehog?