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Public Statements

Captive Primate Safety Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, on February 16, 2009, a pet non-human primate, NHP, attacked Ms. Nash, a friend of the pet's owner--almost killing her. My thoughts and prayers are with Ms. Nash and I am sure I join all of my colleagues in wishing her a speedy and full recovery.

This unfortunate event has rushed consideration of the Captive Primate Safety Act, H.R. 80. H.R. 80 would make it illegal to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase non-human primates, such as monkeys and apes, by amending the over 100-year old Lacey Act to include ``any nonhuman primate.''

H.R. 80 does not affect laboratory animals, zoos, and some veterinarian cases.

This bill does not address a national priority and should not be considered by Congress.

Last Congress, I held the similar Senate version of the Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 1498, because of concerns with its fiscal impact and because I did not believe it was appropriate for the Federal Government to be regulating pets.

Today the Senate is trying to pass the similar House version that still seeks to increase Federal regulation of pets in a fiscally irresponsible manner without amendments or debate.

Supporters of this bill hope that somehow creating a new Federal law to prohibit transporting pet primates across State lines, on top of the Federal laws and regulations that already make it illegal to import them and the dozens of State laws that outlaw owning non-human primates as pets, and
giving the Fish and Wildlife Service $5 million to hire extra ``law enforcement'' staff to pursue chimps will make Americans safer.

Supporters of this measure are using the tragedy that occurred this month to ram this bill through Congress with no debate. This attack occurred in Connecticut, where a State law already existed that outlawed the possession of NHP's weighing more than 50 pounds without a permit. The NHP weighed 200 pounds and should have not been allowed under state law to live with its owner as a pet, but passing the Captive Primate Safety Act last year would not have prevented this tragedy and is not a national priority.

The bill authorizes $5 million in fiscal year 2010 to hire additional United States Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement personnel to enforce the new monkey provisions and CBO says the bill will cost taxpayers $17 million over 5 years. To enact such legislation without any offsets and therefore simply add to our national debt is extremely imprudent at this time in our nation.

There still have been no hearings and therefore no official statement or testimony available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as to whether or not this law is necessary and/or enforceable within the agency's current resources.

There is even a more basic question of whether or not a Federal wildlife agency should be regulating interstate pet transportation at all.

This law may be duplicative, unnecessary, and ineffective.

This matter of pet ownership may be more appropriately and effectively handled by local and State governments and agencies.

The UC does not allow an opportunity to amend this bill to address cost concerns.

This Bill spends money we don't have on something that is unnecessary.

CBO estimated last Congress that both the House and the Senate versions of the Captive Safety Act and last Congress's Senate bill, would cost $17 million over 5 years. H.R. 80 is almost identical to last Congress's House bill.

According to CBO, the cost of hiring four additional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FWS, employees to conduct inspections and investigations and storing, transporting and boarding confiscated NHP's totals $17 million over 5 years.

The costs may in fact be even higher. According to one chimp sanctuary the annual cost to house two chimpanzees can exceed $35,000 a year. According to the Humane Society of the United States and various Members of Congress, there are an estimated 15,000 non-human primates in private hands. If the FWS were to try and confiscate and then house all 15,000 chimps, that could add up to a total cost of $262.5 million a year for the federal taxpayers, or $1.3 billion over 5 years.

The unanimous consent agreement would not allow anyone to offer amendments to offset the cost of this bill or perhaps cut back on other areas within the Fish and Wildlife's jurisdiction to pay for these new responsibilities.

Fourteen Monkey bites a year do not justify annual appropriations of $4 Million.

While the Humane Society of the United States said in a February 2009 press release that the Captive Primates Safety Act is an ``urgently needed public safety and animal welfare measure,'' other Americans may feel differently about prioritizing this issue above more pressing national issues.

The group justifies prioritizing H.R. 80 with American taxpayer resources because of recent captive primate incidents. An analysis of its list of ``recent incidents involving captive primates'' finds:

In 2008, 11 monkeys were reported as being involved in biting 14 people. One of the monkeys was in a university laboratory and another was in a wildlife sanctuary. Both of these types of monkeys are exempted and therefore would not be affected by the Captive Primates Safety Act.

In 2008, there were 39 non-human primates involved in 21 incidents, but 28 of the 39 monkeys involved in the reported incidents were not noted as having harmed humans.

Similarly, last Congress, the Humane Society and the Senate EPW committee justified the creation of a new Federal law by citing 132 reported incidents of human injury from captive or escaped captive primates over a 10-year period--which still averages out to only 13 a year.

In contrast, 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Taking both the Humane Society and the CBO score together, the bill before us today, essentially calls for the Federal Government to spend the equivalent of over $444,000 per year to take nine biting monkeys out of their private owners' hands. Using another measurement, the FWS would spend the equivalent of over $285,000 per bite--$4 million divided by 14 people who were bitten by monkeys in 2008--if this bill passed.

Yet even these cost estimates may be understated because it is possible that none of the nine offending monkeys will ever cross State lines. In that case, unless State or local laws and officials caused their removal, these pets would remain with their owners.

While not seeking to diminish the physical or psychological effects of any monkey bites or attacks, taxpayers have a right to question if such a small number of incidents justify the large cost to the Federal Government of taking on additional animal control responsibilities.

In contrast, though some of the 4.7 million Americans bitten by dogs each year die as a result of these bites, Congress is not adding interstate dog transport to the lists of Federal wildlife responsibilities and prohibitions. If preventing human injuries caused by pets was a national priority, why aren't Senators and special interest groups pushing to outlaw the private ownership of dogs?

Passing the Captive Safety Act last Congress would not have prevented the recent attack.

Tragically, a 200-pound, 15-year-old chimpanzee named Travis--who was raised by the same owners since he was an infant--brutally attacked one of his owner's friends, Charla Nash, outside his house in Stamford, CT, in February 2009. The chimp, for still unknown reasons, attacked Ms. Nash, severely damaging her face and hands, according to news reports. She is in critical but stable condition. Travis died after being stabbed by his owner and being shot by a police officer after he charged the officer.

Following the recent chimp attack, the Humane Society has argued that if I had not held last year's bill, S. 1498, Ms. Nash would not have been attacked. This statement, however, is incorrect, because this bill would have only have removed Travis from his owner if the NHP crossed State lines.

Additionally, since 2004 under Connecticut State law it has been illegal to own an NHP weighing more than 50 pounds if the animal is not registered. Yet, State officials did not even require Travis--a 200 pound NHP--to be registered, even though he was well known. It appears Travis lived in Stamford, CT, for most of his life. His attack took place in front of his home. With the possible exception of an appearance on the Maury Povich show, which may or may not have been filmed in the New York City studio, nothing indicates that Travis was crossing state lines on a regular basis, nor did his unprovoked attack have any interstate aspect to it. The fact that he might have been born in another State 15 years ago, would not have affected Travis's private ownership 2 weeks ago if this bill had been signed into law last year.

What if Travis or his siblings grew up in the same State where they were born? The bill does nothing to address this situation; they have to cross State lines to fall under Federal jurisdiction. Why is a chimp native to and living in Missouri ok, but one moving to Connecticut, for example should suddenly become the business of the Federal Government? It is very unlikely that Travis' trip 15 years ago across a few State lines led to his attack in February. This is yet another reason why this bill is a misplaced priority and misguided effort.

If people are saying all chimps are dangerous and are against private ownership of nonhuman primates, why doesn't this bill simply make it a Federal crime to own them and take away the estimated 15,000 animals in private hands? Instead, to justify questionable Federal involvement, Congress is using the interstate commerce clause even though this approach is both inappropriate and ineffective.

In a recent Boston Herald article April Truitt, director of the Primate Rescue Center in Kentucky, had the following to say regarding H.R. 80:

``It's better than nothing, which is what approximately 30 states have right now,'' she said. But if the bill becomes law, it will affect few dealers in exotic animals.

``Dealers are not one bit concerned about this,'' Truitt said. ``They know that they still can continue to do what they were doing. Most dealers are USDA licensed, and the USDA licensing has been and is used by private owners rampantly to circumvent state and local legislation.''

Others, such as Sian Evans, the director of the DuMond Conservancy for Primates and Tropical Forests, contend that in general, NHPs do not carry disease and should not be considered a threat to the safety of others.

While the recent attack is tragic, this bill is not an appropriate or responsible use of taxpayer funds and Congressional resources.

Federal law already exists banning non-human primate imports.

It has also already been illegal for the past 30 years to import non-human primates, such as monkeys, for pets. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: ``Since 1975, the Federal Quarantine Regulations, (42CFR71.53), have restricted the importation of NHP ..... Importation of NHP for use as pets is not permitted under any circumstances.''

The Humane Society of the United States previously acknowledged, ``Most states regulate keeping primates as pets, and the trend is for states to prohibit the practice altogether.'' Yet the group also claims, ``federal legislation is needed to complement state laws'' because ``many of these animals move in interstate commerce.''

In conclusion, Congress recently justified swift passage of a massive spending bill that increases the national debt by more than $1 trillion to more than $10 billion in the midst of a struggling national economy. In January, the national unemployment rate was 7.6 percent--the highest it has been in more than 15 years. In December, national home prices plunged at the fastest pace on record, leading to predictions of 6 million foreclosures over the next four years. Consumer confidence levels have dropped to a new low of 25 in February from 37.4 a month earlier as people worry about losing their jobs, earning less, and deteriorating prospects.

Yet the Humane Society and certain Members of Congress are seeking to make this pet regulation bill a national priority and are pushing to have it enacted quickly. How is potentially preventing a few monkey bites a bigger national priority than trying to address the weakening economy and collapsing consumer and business environment?

These ``little'' bills add up and once privately owned monkeys are added to the Department of Interior's jurisdiction, they will likely be there forever, not just for the 5 years authorized in this bill.

This bill would not have stopped the attack on Ms. Nash. My objection does not question the seriousness of her attack but lies in moving an inappropriate, ineffective, and irresponsible bill in the midst of a time of real need in our country for strong leadership. Congress cannot afford to continue to misprioritize scarce resources and must focus on truly national priorities--not on monkey bites and inappropriate special-interest legislation.

Madam President, not once have I had a call from my colleague asking: Will you work with me on this issue? Will you protect people as a result of this issue? Will you help us pass this? What it has been is: Take it or leave it.

I note for the record that 90 Members in the House voted against the bill. It was not a smattering few. A fourth of the House did not agree with this legislation.

I have never been asked: Would you care if we eliminated the ownership of these pets? I don't have any problem with that, but I have never been asked that. That has never been offered.

The question in the case that brings this back up is Connecticut has a law and the law says you can hold and register a nonhuman primate if it weighs under 50 pounds. What happened in Connecticut is they violated their own law. They had a restriction on it.

I am not opposed to commonsense eliminating the risk from nonhuman primates, but I have never been approached in how I would work with that to try to accomplish what the Senator from California would like to accomplish and still meet the needs of individual Americans and their civil liberties.

The second point I note, if we are going to do this, look, there were 4.6 million dog bites last year that caused hundreds of thousands of serious injuries. Are we going to stop the interstate transport of dogs that caused thousands and thousands more injuries, some even deaths, to individuals? Nobody is proposing that.

What I ask my colleague is reach out. I would gladly work with Senator Boxer in a way so we eliminate any future ownership of these types of animals in a way that does not violate those who presently have them and encourages the States to enforce their laws that they have today and enforce them in the future.

We can start at a time certain tomorrow and say: You can't have new ownership of any nonhuman primate. That stops all interstate commerce. That stops it completely. But our problem is we have about 30 States that have regulations in regard to this issue.

The incident that happened in Connecticut is very unfortunate, I agree. But what happened was you had the law broken. So instead of enforcing a law that is on the books, we are going to create another new law, and it is not going to accomplish the very purpose. We are still going to have nonhuman primate bites if we do not have some way to ultimately end this type of pet selection.

I reach out to my colleague. I am sorry I had to object. I will gladly work with her in the future to come to some accommodation.

I yield the floor.


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