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CommunityInterestACBeyondWhen the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office received information on Oct. 16 of a possible dead lion at a Loxahatchee residence, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) was called to help.

“FWC Officer Jeff Haynes responded to the residence,” said Capt. Jeff Ardelean, supervisor of investigations for the area.

The resident, Gene Stimmler (DOB 07/25/38), advised Haynes that there was a dead cougar in the freezer. When Stimmler opened the freezer, Haynes observed the animal and did not observe any violations.

The FWC checks all captive animals to determine their species and ensure that they were lawfully acquired. FWC records showed that Stimmler, at one time, had captive cougars. He previously held the appropriate permits to possess cougars and other wildlife. However, when the animals died, he submitted paperwork to the FWC to cancel and refund those permits.

“Unfortunately, even in healthy facilities, it is not uncommon for captive animals to get sick or die,” Ardelean said.

Since captive wildlife of this type is personal property, if there are no obvious signs of abuse or neglect, the FWC does not investigate their deaths.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture also regulates captive wildlife,” Ardelean said. “In situations where animals seem abused, neglected or very sick, we will turn information over to their staff to investigate.”

Captive-wildlife owners do not have to report how or why their animals died, and they have the right to handle the carcasses as they see fit. The caller who reported the dead cat to Palm Beach County was concerned that it had been stored in the freezer. However, FWC officials point out that this is not a violation.

“Everyone treats captive wildlife deaths differently,” Ardelean said. “There is nothing illegal about storing the carcass of a captive animal in the freezer.

“We appreciate that conscientious residents report things like this to the FWC,” Ardelean said. “There was no violation in this situation, but it is often better to be safe than sorry when it comes to reporting suspected illegal activities.”

Stimmler is one of many Florida residents who possess captive wildlife. The state’s abundant natural resources make it a prime spot for captive wildlife owners; the subtropical climate even allows facilities to house exotic animals from around the world.

Owners must be conscientious and well-equipped, as Florida’s captive wildlife regulations are comprehensive and strict.  State statutes and rules require both commercial and private facilities to obtain permits for possessing, exhibiting or selling many types of native and nonnative animals. The FWC enforces these regulations.

“We have worked extensively with the industry and stakeholders to provide the best possible rules for public safety, humane treatment of the animals and sound housing and caging requirements,” said Maj. Curtis Brown, leader of the FWC’s Captive Wildlife and Investigations Section. “We want to support the ethical and legitimate use of wildlife.”

FWC officers and investigators routinely conduct both scheduled and random inspections to ensure these rules are met, protecting the safety of both the animals and the public.

There are currently 260 commercial or personal facilities licensed to possess Class I wildlife in the state. Class I wildlife are those that could pose a significant danger to people, and include cougars and other big cats.  These facilities are inspected at least twice a year.

To obtain a permit to possess Class I or Class II wildlife, an owner must meet strict requirements, including being financially responsible, having ample training and experience, providing reference letters and establishing disaster-response plans. The land used for the facilities must also meet local zoning and acreage requirements, and cages must be appropriate in size and design.

For more information about captive wildlife regulations, visit MyFWC.com/Wildlife or call 850-488-6253.