A bill that would remove Department of Natural Resources regulations on native wildlife at roadside zoos in Wisconsin is set for a vote on January 19, 2022.
Under current law, roadside zoos must obtain a permit from the DNR to possess, exhibit, sell, purchase or rehabilitate native wild animals in Wisconsin and they must meet requirements to ensure humane enclosures and safe handling of animals. Public zoos and aquariums, and those that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), are exempt from state licensing requirements.
Assembly Bill 341/Senate Bill 347 would exempt all facilities that hold a U.S. Department of Agriculture exhibitor license from state license requirements relating to captive wild animals. Privately owned roadside zoos that refuse to meet the rigid AZA animal care standards would no longer be subject to DNR regulations.
DNR Wildlife Biologist Amanda Kamps testified at a January 5, 2022, Assembly Committee hearing that if state regulations at roadside zoos are removed, Wisconsin’s wildlife, the environment and the public may not be sufficiently protected.
“Reliance on federal approvals alone may result in the application of less restrictive regulations that may not sufficiently protect Wisconsin wildlife and natural resources,” she said.
Kamps said the bill would increase the potential for disease transmission between captive wild animals and domestic and free roaming wild populations. Incidents related to animal health, humane care and housing and human safety would no longer be referred to the DNR, she said, and the DNR’s authority over animals-at-large incidents would no longer apply. Record keeping requirements at roadside zoos would be removed and the DNR would have no authority to enforce violations of captive wild animal laws at roadside zoos.
Representatives of Wildwood Wildlife Park in Minocqua, and Timbavati Wildlife Park in Wisconsin Dells, voiced their support of the bill at the hearing.
Wildwood Wildlife Park owner Judy Domaszek said "most importantly [the bill] eliminates the need for a redundant DNR Inspection."
Timbavati Wildlife Park owner Matt Schoebel said that “non accredited, family-owned wildlife parks and zoos work hard to create revenue to enhance their facilities, create jobs and promote tourism which directly benefits other businesses throughout the state.”
In July 2021, Schoebel was cited by the USDA after a Timbavati Wildlife Park visitor reached into a prairie dog enclosure and was bitten on the finger hard enough that the bite broke the skin. In October 2021, Schoebel was cited by the USDA after two zebras that he leased to Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch in Illinois escaped, went off the facility grounds and crossed a state highway several times before being recaptured. Schoebel was also cited with a repeat violation for allowing the public to have unsupervised contact with a giraffe.
An exhibit submitted in the 2019 federal trial of Tiger King Joe Exotic (Joseph Maldonado-Passage) indicates the Schoebel family sent more than $40,000 worth of tigers and other animals to the Tiger King zoo, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, in Oklahoma.
The transportation of endangered species across state lines in interstate commerce without a valid permit is a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Wisconsin is one of only three states in the U.S. with no regulations on the private ownership of exotic animals.
Director Emeritus of the AZA accredited Milwaukee County Zoo, Charles Wikenhauser, previously voiced opposition to the Wisconsin roadside zoo bill.
“I, along with other Wisconsin AZA accredited zoos, strongly oppose the adoption of SB 347,“ he said in a letter. "Removing this licensure and oversight would be detrimental to public safety as well as the welfare of captive wildlife in Wisconsin.”
The Assembly Committee on State Affairs will be voting on AB 341/SB 347 on Wednesday. If the bill passes, it will be sent to the full Assembly Floor for a vote.
ACTION ALERT: Wisconsin residents are urged to email and call all members of the committee and ask them not to move AB 341/SB 347 out of committee. Please put “Assembly Committee NO on AB 341/SB 347” in the subject line of your email and include your first and last name, street address, city, state and zip code. Contact information is below.
Rep. Rob Swearingen, Chair; (608) 266-7141
Rep. Tyler Vorpagel, Vice Chair; (608) 266-8530
Rep. Mike Kuglitsch; (608) 267-5158
Rep. Gary Tauchen; (608) 266-3097
Rep. Rob Summerfield; 608) 266-1194
Rep. John Spiros; (608) 266-1182
Rep. Daniel Knodl; (608) 266-3796
Rep. Robert Brooks; (608) 267-2369
Rep. Michael Schraa; (608) 267-7990
Rep. Christine Sinicki; (608) 266-8588
Rep. Sondy Pope; (608) 266-3520
Rep. Tod Ohnstad; (608) 266-0455
Rep. Tip McGuire; (608) 266-5504