Audubon: No rhinos please

Julie Wraithmell, Audubon of Florida’s director of wildlife conservation, tells Historic City News that her organization is asking Governor Rick Scott to veto a bill that would allow zoos to put rhinos, elephants, giraffes and other zoo animals on state conservation lands.

Supporters of HB 1117 by Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Temple Terrace, say placing rare wildlife species in natural settings allows them to roam and mate and will help conserve the species. They say the zoo animals would be located in pens, not in sensitive habitats, with review by state wildlife officials.

Audubon of Florida says allowing the species on public lands runs contrary to the reason the tracts were purchased. The African wildlife also could collapse burrows of threatened gopher tortoises, cause ecological imbalances, restrict native wildlife and prevent public access, the group contends.

“Who doesn’t love giraffes and elephants? We completely support the interest in breeding these rare species,” Wraithmell said. “But I just don’t think they have made a compelling case that they have to have state land to do that.”

The group’s letter to Scott outlines six reasons why the group says it is questioning the need for the bill.

Representative Harrison said Tuesday that the bill only allows the Governor, Cabinet and water management districts to enter into lease agreements.

“I think what we have here is some very overactive imaginations conjuring up science fiction scenes of what the worst case scenarios could be,” Harrison said. “I think everybody needs to step back and read the bill.”

Larry Killmar, president of the Florida Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said in a February interview that mammal carnivores and primates would not be allowed. The ungulate species (with hooves) allowed under the bill, he said, would be placed on state lands where livestock grazing already is allowed under leases, although that isn’t stated in the bill.

The bill has not been sent to the governor. A spokeswoman for the governor said he will review bills and make decisions as they come to his desk.

HB 1117 passed the House 113-2 and passed the Senate 39-1 on March 9, the final day of the 2012 legislative session.

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