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Richmond City Council passes exotic, wild animals ban

A gray Virginia opossum laying on the grass at Shenandoah National Park
Denise Machado
A gray Virginia opossum laying on the grass at Shenandoah National Park. It is now illegal to own one of these in Richmond.

The unanimously passed ordinance makes some wild exceptions, too.

After a series of attempts, Richmond City Council passed a ban on owning wild and exotic animals on Monday night.

The measure covers nonhuman primates, venomous reptiles and snakes, crocodilians, raccoons, big cats — and the list goes on. Any owner who does not possess the required state or federal permits to own an exotic animal is subject to a class 3 misdemeanor and a fine of up to $500.

Objections from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, animal owners and advocacy groups led to delays and changes to the text. Council had expected to approve the legislation as early as May.

For instance, a provision now gives reptile owners a 180-day grace period to register their animals with the city. The ordinance was also edited to ensure state wildlife officials would not be in violation by carrying out the duties of their work.

Laura Hagen, who heads the American Humane Society’s captive wild animals program, spoke in support of the ban at Monday’s meeting. She said wild animals pose a threat to owners, neighbors and first responders.

“The average person simply does not have the expertise and resources needed to properly house and care for these animals,” Hagen said.

Lewis “Buddy” Waskey of the American Federation of Aviculture opposed it, questioning the inclusion of certain exotic birds.

“Whether the birds are legal or not legal, wild-caught or whatever — birds do not present a safety issue to the public or to first responders,” Waskey said.

Under the ordinance, birds that were domestically bred, legally imported or legally removed from the wild with state or federal authorization are OK to own.

Some smaller animals, including ferrets, rats, rabbits, nonvenomous reptiles, fish and amphibians are fair game as long as they were captively bred and have never lived in the wild.

The ordinance passed with unanimous support and took effect immediately.

Read Richmond Ordinance 2023-130.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.
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