The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the primary agency responsible for policing the exotic animal trade. But other state and federal agencies play a role.
Under state law, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources only regulates native species — which cannot be removed from the wild — and several species that have been deemed too “harmful,” including wild and feral swine and bears, according to DNR communications director Jim Dick.
The agency issues captive wild animal farm licenses to those who wish to keep native wild animals such as skunks, cougars and wolves. The USDA allocates licenses for non-native species.
Other agencies are responsible for regulating the interstate and international transportation of animals.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import and interstate transport of “injurious species” such as Burmese pythons, mongooses and fruit bats, and restricts the transportation of captive-bred big cats, according to Tina Shaw, public affairs specialist for the Fish and Wildlife Service, Midwest region.
The agency also enforces the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits interstate sale and transportation of species listed under the act including the gray wolf, American alligator and whooping crane. However, there are some exemptions for institutions like zoos, which are able to donate and move the species among themselves, Shaw said.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection lists several species — prairie dogs and tree squirrels among them — that may not be imported into Wisconsin because they are known to carry highly contagious diseases.
In addition, the department requires people transporting an animal across the Wisconsin border — even a pet dog — to have the animal inspected by a veterinarian, who completes a certificate of veterinary inspection. If the animal is a common household pet such as a dog, cat or ferret, the veterinarian makes sure the animal is up to date on all vaccinations.
That certificate is then sent to the state veterinarian of the origin state, the destination state and every state that the animal passes through, said Bekah Weitz, a humane officer for Monroe County.
In theory, the requirement for animal owners to obtain such certificates creates a paper trail to track animals crossing state borders. But Weitz said the illegal, undocumented transportation of animals across state lines happens “more often than we’d like to admit.”
“I can pretty much guarantee that most agencies and most individuals don’t (obtain certificates),” Weitz said. “I mean, when I take my dog on vacation to Michigan I don’t do that.”
She added, “I think there’s probably a lot more transportation of animals, exotic or otherwise, than we have any idea of, and being that Wisconsin is a state where there is no regulation for the keeping of exotics, I would imagine that it’s probably … pretty attractive to certain people.”