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Proposed bill banning exotic pets threatens Austin Zoo

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Lions, leopards, lemurs and monkeys...every animal at the Austin Zoo has been rescued or surrendered.

"The public can come and meet our rescued animals and hopefully learn why it's not a really great idea to adopt an exotic animal as a pet," said Patti Clark, the Executive Director of the Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary.

Two tigers at the zoo are a perfect example.

"They were found wandering on the shores of...Lake Travis when they were quite young," said Clark. "When they pass on, we would not be able to rescue additional animals on the list on House Bill 1015."

The bill by Texas State Representative Ryan Guillen, a Democrat out of Rio Grande City, bans the individual ownership of leopards, lions, cheetahs, cougars, jaguars, orangutans, gorillas and tigers in counties with populations greater than 75,000 people.

Current owners can keep their animals, but would not be allowed to breed or acquire new ones.

They don't qualify for any of the three exceptions listed in the bill.

Clark explained, "We're not eligible for the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuary verification or accreditation because we're open to the public as a zoo...the American Zoological Association accreditation, we are not yet at the place where we would be able to obtain that."

The bill takes a bite out of their bottom line.

"Everybody is fascinated by the big cats, so if the big cats are not here, the number of people that come obviously diminishes," said Clark.

Fewer people means less admission profits.

Clark added, "Less admission income means I can't save, we can't save as many animals as we can now."

They don't breed, buy or sell animals...and many of the creatures here are older.

"Maybe I should invite the rep out here to see what we do," Clark said. "I think it's important that the rep know that there are exceptions that need to be made and maybe the language of the bill could be broadened."

The plan is to expand.

Clark said, "The facility is developed on 15 acres. We own an additional 40 acres that we're able to expand on as funds are available."

They have the den space, trained staff and qualified veterinarians.

"When you have this kind of facility in place to provide that kind of care, it seems a shame to say you don't have this accreditation, therefore you're not going to get to do what you've been doing for the past 20 years," said Clark.

The Austin Zoo and Animal Sanctuary has about eight different species of what the bill refers to as "non-human primates." None of those are on the ban list.

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