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Help zoo animals maintain protections under Virginia law

Posted on Monday, February 20, 2023

HB 2331, Patron: Delegate Ellen Campbell (oppose)

At Wilson’s Wild Animal Park in Winchester, two Asiatic black bears were kept in a small, concrete enclosure filled with feces. They had no food and their water supply was contaminated. Their ability to engage in natural behavior was nonexistant.

This bill is the latest in a series of efforts that started in 2020 to dilute the state’s protections for animals kept at zoos. It was introduced in response to successful prosecution of a zoo proprietor who pled guilty to 27 counts of cruelty. Allies of that zoo owner want to reduce protections for exotic animals kept at zoos by grouping them with agricultural animals (for whom the code provides laxer standards) for the purpose of seizure by law enforcement.

This puts obstacles in the way of the very officers who we rely on to intervene when animals are suffering. Impounding animals requires a substantial burden of proof. This bill adds the step of seeking a recommendation from the State Veterinarian’s office; however, the agency has stated that it has expertise in neither zoological medicine nor associated regulations.

Before executing the 2019 seizure at Wilson’s Wild Animal Park that was the precursor of this bill, officers secured a court-approved warrant. At the hearing in Frederick County General District Court that followed, the owner was represented by counsel and given due process before the judge ruled that Keith Wilson had cruelly treated his animals and ordered him to forfeit all 119. This is a case to be celebrated as a victory for Virginia’s animal protection laws – though it sadly came only after prolonged misery had been ignored by the USDA – not a reason to rewrite them.

What’s next for HB 2331?

The bill passed the House after a divided vote of 52-Y, 47-N and next comes before the Senate. Please urge your senator to VOTE NO when this bill comes to the floor this week. Find who represents you and how to contact them.

Your message will be most effective when conveyed in your own words, but we are providing a suggestion to get you started.

Dear [Senator NAME]:

I am a constituent of [district #] living at [address at which you are registered to vote].

Please vote NAY on HB2331. This bill is a dangerous step backwards in protecting animals and will make it more difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs.

Thank you for your service to the Commonwealth.



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