Alaska OKs some exotic cats; bars chimps, sloths
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Alaska is famous for wildlife: moose, bear, whales. Not capuchin monkeys and kinkajous.
And the Alaska Board of Game wants it to stay that way.
The board considers exotic pet requests every four years, and this year's petitions covered everything from allowing Alaskans to own the "organ grinder" monkeys to adding exotic cats to the list of animals people can own without a permit.
At the end of a four-day meeting this week, the vote was in: capuchins out; some of the cats in.
Chimpanzees, previously allowed, are now out. Sloths, kinkajous, wallaroos and surgically de-venomized reptiles also need not apply. Ditto for domestic finches.
Game board Executive Director Kristy Tibbles said Thursday that the board increased the criteria for the so-called "clean list" of approved animals from five to nine. Considerations now will include, among other things, whether the animals can be maintained in good health in private ownership.
Tibbles said people who already have chimpanzees in Alaska, can keep them as long as they get them registered with the state.
The thumbs-down decision on capuchins came after the board heard from two veterinarians. Concerns that the monkeys -- whether kept as pets or used to help quadriplegics with tasks of daily living -- could spread disease to humans squashed that proposal, Tibbles said.
"I really think it was a wrong decision," said Christy Paquette of Juneau, who grew up with a capuchin and hoped to start a business helping the disabled. "I don't think the health issue is even an issue."
The monkeys can be owned without permits in 17 states.
The board was presented with several proposals to allow Alaskans to own hybrid cats, breeds that were developed by crossing domestic and wild cats. The board approved the idea, provided a pedigree could show that the cat's wild DNA was watered down and its wild ancestors were at least four generations removed.
The International Cat Association, the largest registry of pedigreed cats, considers exotic hybrids to be domestic cats.
Michelle Schwoch of Buffalo, Minn., was one of six people behind Proposal 20 "to add hybrid cats to the list of animals that can be possessed in Alaska without a permit."
"They are such a neat breed of cat," said Schwoch, who breeds Savannah cats. "They will go for walks, and play fetch and love toys. Not only are they cool-looking but they are nice, sweet cats that really bond with their owners.
"To hear them called a wild animal is so not true," she said.
The exotic cat ownership issue might be getting more attention following the incident of Simon the Savannah cat in 2008, Tibbles said. The cat bolted out the door of his owner's Anchorage home. When he was found months later and returned to owner Sharon Gratrix, she was told the cat was illegal in Alaska and would have to be sent away. Simon went to live with her daughter in Arizona.
Gratrix is not sure under the new rules if Simon can return to Alaska given the board's four-generation requirement.
The board should have just accepted The International Cat Association's expertise on the matter and considered all hybrid cats domestic, she said.