By LAUREN GENTILE
Capital News Service
LANSING – It would become illegal for most people in Michigan to own primates as pets under a revived legislative proposal.
The bill stems from a monkey attack in Trenton, said the sponsor, Rep. Andrew Kandrevas, D-Southgate.
“A few years back I recall a young girl getting viciously attacked by a monkey while she was playing with friends,” Kandrevas said. “Something needs to be done about this because monkeys are not pets.”
The 6-year-old girl was playing with her friend when a Java macaque monkey bit her on the finger. The monkey was later tested but did not have rabies.
Kandrevas originally introduced the bill in 2010, but it died without action. But he said he could not let go of the issue.
“I decided to re-introduce this for the fact that we need to regulate what domestic animals can be,” he said. “A ban on these animals not only is more humane but prevents future tragedy.”
However, state Veterinarian Steve Halstead said no primate attacks have been reported recently in Michigan.
Kandrevas has teamed up with the Michigan Humane Society and the Detroit Zoo to generate support for the bill.
When animal control officers seize pet monkeys, they are taken to the Detroit Zoo.
The zoo will introduces them into a “wild” habitat and then helps them find new homes, whether another zoo or animal sanctuary.
“Over 600 monkeys that have come from families who can no longer care for them or they been taken by local animal control live in our animal sanctuary,” said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA in Washington, D.C.
The organization’s sanctuary is located outside San Antonio, Texas.
Because Michigan doesn’t have a strict law limiting primate ownership, there are likely to be more primate pets in the state, said Roberts.
“Many of these types of attacks go unreported,” Roberts said. “People get bitten more often by dogs and cats, so most of the time even a primate bite isn’t reported.”
The humane society worries that if the legislation is not passed, the primates will suffer, said its public relations coordinator, Kevin Hatman.
“People cannot provide the correct dietary needs of these animals, and if the pet becomes ill, they are limited in their choices of vets,” Hatman said.
The society is working with Kandrevas to push the bill.
“This is very important to us. Twenty to 30 years ago, Michigan had no laws about primate animals and now we have some, but we must make them stricter to protect everyone,” Hatman said.
Michigan’s current law states that primate owners must have their pets checked by a veterinarian before entering the state, but no license or certification is needed.
Current primate owners would be grandfathered under Kandrevas’s bill and allowed to keep their pets.
Among the exceptions in the proposal, zoos and scientific laboratories would be able to continue owning primates.
“This is not a bill to take people’s pets away — it is to discourage the new ownership of these types of animals,” Hatman said.
First-time violators would face up to 93 days in jail and a $500-$1,000 fine, plus community service.
Kandrevas said, “This will hold people accountable for their actions.”
Support will not be hard to find, Kandrevas said, because other legislators want to keep their communities safe, and “with this passing that is another step in the right direction.”
The bill is awaiting action in the House Judiciary Committee, and Kandrevas said he plans to request a hearing soon.
“This bill does have a lot of support, and I hope that we can get this passed, if not in this session, the next one.”
By LAUREN GENTILE