Pennsylvania House Bill 1398: The Wide World of Exotic Animals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

Pennsylvania residents, beware.  A sleeper bill has been moving through the legislature that is going to outlaw nearly all reptiles.

On April 27, 2011, Representatives Edward G. Staback (D), Thomas R. Caltagirone (R), Mark B. Cohen (D), John R. Evans (R), Patrick J. Harkins (D), John D. Hornaman (D), Babette Josephs (D), Sid Michaels Kavulich (D), William F. Keller (D), Thaddeus Kirkland (D), Thomas P. Murt (R), Bernie O’Neill (R), Ken Smith (D), John Taylor (R), Mike Carroll (D) and Jennifer L. Mann (D) introduced Pennsylvania House Bill 1398.

HB 1398 will operate as a ban on all species of reptiles as well as many other species of animals.   It is strongly supported by the Humane Society of the United States.

HB 1398 defines as “Exotic Wildlife” (but is not limited to) all of the following: all bears, coyotes, lions, tigers, leopards (including snow leopards and clouded leopards), jaguars, cheetahs, cougars, wolves, nonhuman primates and any crossbreed of the afore mentioned which have “similar characteristics in appearance or features.”

The definition also includes “all nonindigenous animals.”

Birds, horses, zebras, donkeys, camels, alpacas, llamas, deer, moose, elk, wild cattle, spiral horned antelope, rats, mice, chinchillas, viscachas rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, moonrats, gliders, striped possums, guinea pigs, and domestic animals as defined in the Pennsylvania animal cruelty statute are exempted from the definition.

Any person in possession of “Exotic Wildlife” will be required to have a permit. Any person that imports, possesses, buys, sells, locates or finds for a fee, barters, donates, gives away at least five “Exotic Wildlife” animals shall be considered an “Exotic Wildlife Dealer.”

No new possession permits will be issued after January 1, 2013.  Only renewals of possession permits issued before December 31, 2012 will be issued after that date.  Propagation permits shall be permissible under the existing Code, 34 Pa.C.S. § 2930.  However, since no one in the state will be able to obtain a possession permit after January 1, 2013, having a propagation permit seems rather pointless.

The United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) took early and swift action against HB 1398 in 2011 and had been assured that HB 1398 was tabled.  This was not the case.   After its April introduction, HB 1398 was amended on May 25, 2011.  It passed out of the Pennsylvania House unnoticed on January 24, 2012.  It was referred to the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee on February 1, 2012.  It passed out of Committee on March 28, 2012 (the day after the Ohio Senate held Committee hearings on SB 310 until after 6:00 p.m.) and was first considered on the Pennsylvania Senate floor on the same day.

HB 1398 needs only two more considerations before the Senate before a vote is taken.  The next two considerations must be before the full Senate.  (To learn how a bill becomes a law in Pennsylvania, click here.)  If it passes in the Senate, it will go before Governor Corbett who can sign HB 1398 into law.  The Pennsylvania legislature reconvenes on April 30, 2012.

HB 1398 is vague, over broad, burdensome and will divest Pennsylvania residents of the right to own reptiles and other animals.  It is a total ban.

It is imperative that Pennsylvania residents make their opposition to HB 1398 known.  To find out who your senator is, please click here.  A full list of email addresses for Pennsylvania senators can be found here.

USARK will be in Pennsylvania when the session resumes in April to protect your rights to keep your reptiles.  Join us by contacting your legislators and voicing your opposition to HB 1398.


14 thoughts on “Pennsylvania House Bill 1398: The Wide World of Exotic Animals

  1. actually, no it won’t restrict reptiles which are not covered by the PA Game Commission (who used to issue exotic mammal permits) or the USDA (domestic and alternative livestock). ‘Animals’ essentially means ‘mammals’ – note all the examples are of mammals (or birds).

    Reptiles fall under the PA Fish and Boat Commission – who does not, and does not want to, regulate nonnative reptiles.

    Now it IS worth noting that there are 3 separate bills wanting to regulate or ban reptiles 1 banning alligators, 1 banning ALL crocodilians, and 1 for permitting/regulating all nonnative reptiles with a requirement for the permit being a $25 fee (does not say whether that’s one fee per household, or $25 per *reptile* – but more importantly requires a *home inspection* before receiving the permit. That’s right your pit bull doesn’t need a home inspection, but your leopard gecko or water turtle does.

    Here’s the list of other bills:

    House Bill 2233

    “An Act amending Title 30 (Fish) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, providing for nonindigenous and exotic reptile and amphibian possession permits.”

    An there’s other bills banning alligators and other crocodilians, etc…

    bans sale/trade/barter, etc…. of alligators, unless you’re an AZA zoo

    Would ban sale/trade/barter, etc… of ALL crocodilians – including the dwarf caimans…..

    • Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for your comments. The problem with the language of HB 1398 is that even though reptiles are not supposed to fall under these departments, the provision that states “all nonindigenous animals” is a black letter law issue. If the legislature intends to exempt reptiles, it is a very simple fix and it must be made or reptiles become part of the definition of “Exotic Wildlife” as a matter of law.

      USARK is aware of the other pending bills as well and I am sure Andrew Wyatt will come forward with a position statement on them soon.

      Thanks for taking the time to write.


      • Well, no offense to Andrew, for all the really good work he does – but his MO of trying to get reptiles off of these exotic bills isn’t the way to go. These bills need to be defeated on the basis that they are poorly written, unfunded, unenforceable, declare property illegal, thus valueless, and allow seizure/confiscation and euthanasia, without recompense. He, like the rest of us, should fight to defeat these bills for ALL “exotic animal” owners, not just get reptiles exempted. They can (and will try to) add them again later anyways.

    • I currently don’t own any reptiles but I have in the past, and it seems to me that outside of crocs and alligators, who don’t need to be in the state of pa that this bill or law sucks, there is no reason why a person shouldn’t be allowed to own a chameleon, or a ball python as examples chameleons are fun and none aggressive pets, and many snakes can be too, people all over the United States and world in general have had fun having reptiles as pets, you can have a turtle or a tortoise your whole life and your kids can even inherit them from you, in the end you may have helped save a species, many if not most reptiles that are sold as exotic pets are sold by breeders in the USA. Which means that they are not getting them out of the wild or illegally from other countries, I know that one concern of the people against reptiles and other exotic pets is their worries about the Eco system, well I’m sorry but exotic reptiles cannot survive a winter in Pa out side a home and even more important outside a terrarium type cage set up for humidity proper temperature, and proper food. And like was said above you don’t need anything special to own a pit bull but your worried about a guy owning a chameleon, iguana, green tree python, turtle, or Gecko!???

  2. Each bill is a unique situation and Andrew really strategizes how to best respond to them. Sometimes, it is best not to raise a constitutional issue if it looks like something is going to get rammed through because it leaves a last chance to have it declared unconstitutional by a future court. USARK has done amazing things on a very tight budget, and it simply cannot afford to spend its resources on non-reptiles, although it is committed to working in concert with groups representing other animals. I started working with USARK very recently, but I have collaborated with Andrew on bills in three states now and I can tell you that in all three, he has been the most experienced, most prepared and most effective advocate for reptile rights on the playing field. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, and please feel free to email me privately or Andrew if you want to discuss Pennsylvania in greater depth.


  3. I agree Lisa, but USARK is a reptile advocacy. It is not in our mission to fight the battles for other interest groups. We will always partner with these groups where interests overlap, but they are going to have to take a leadership role on their own issues. USARK can’t do it for them, and it is unfair to expect that we should. We can barely afford to fight our own battles. Others need to take responsibility for their own issues and USARK will support their efforts.

    • Andrew, I’m not asking you to “to fight the battles for other interest groups”. I’m asking you to stop calling them ‘reptile bills’, when in fact they are ‘exotic animal bills’ or even just ‘animal bills’. And I stand by my statement that trying to get reptiles ‘exempted’ just abandons other animal owners – which then weakens the support for reptiles. These other animal owners then say, “why should I fight for reptiles, when you didn’t fight for us?” It’s the old story about when the Nazis came for certain groups, taking them away, no one stood up for them, then, when the Nazis came for you, there was no one left to stand up for you.

      You are doing excellent work for reptiles, I don’t doubt it. Just acknowledge that *our partners* in this fight – other exotic animal owners – are just as crucial to our own fight as we are to theirs.

      As far as “the most experienced, most prepared, and most effective advocate” – yes, for the reptile field. But for two examples, Zuzana Kukol of Rexano, and Polly Britton of OAAO (even though she sticks to Ohio only – she’s got enough of a fight there!) are plenty experienced, prepared, and effective, and they don’t distinguish between reptiles and other exotic animals. They fight for all of them.

      This, and the other three PA bills need to be defeated on the basis that these are bad, poorly written bills. *Asking* if reptiles can be exempted, while letting the rest of the bad bill pass, would be irresponsible at best.

      • Hi Lisa,

        I don’t know Zuzana Kukol, but I agree that Polly Britton does an excellent job for all animals. She represents an all-animal organization, though, so that is her job. Nonetheless, we are glad to work aside her. USARK’s purpose, mission statement and Board of Directors are all focused on reptiles. Andrew would be abrogating his duties if he were to diffuse his efforts across other species. USARK’s goals are not to simply exempt reptiles from legislation, but reptiles, and the arguments against legislating their ownership are significantly different from primates or large cats. You cannot cram hundreds of species into a one-size-fits-all solution.

        Andrew and I are both working on the four Pennsylvania bills and I believe he will make an announcement with respect some or all of them soon.

        As for Nazis, I have to admit that I can’t follow an analogy that seeks to compare exotic animal ownership with genocide and the torture and extermination of 6 million people.


      • I am personal friends with Z, and I am currently working with Polly in Ohio. We don’t always agree, but we always cooperate where our interests overlap.

      • BTW- I really don’t have the kind of power you must think I have; to let a bill pass or fail. I’m just doing my job to keep the Reptile Nation afloat.

  4. I feel the goverment needs to back off so does these animal spca people everyone is so intersted in what you have how about what we have not? Having a snake or lizard etc is not going to kill someone going hungry or not getting medical insurance will. People need to mind there business and leave other people be as long as there not dumping them in the street in front of you mind your business. These people put these bills in that do nothing but tell you what you can and can not do i feel this is not there right this country did better without them now everything is falling apart how about getting on a good issue people abusing SSI ? not having jobs ? no the goverment passed a bill that you can only have one litter a year and if you have anymore lets pay the goverment or spca so they can have more money i think if they were worried more about jobs people would not want to look to make a quick buck. i take care of my bulldogs but you know they need to pass a bill that the spca can only come out once every 5 years or so no now anytime someone is pissed at you lets call the spca. Spca will come out everytime to check my dogs out found nothing wrong they came out 6-8 times in the last 2 years because my family member would get mad and call them and they knew i had bulldogs but when i called them for pit mixes getting bred for fighting and living in a crate never showed up never checked the premsis out guy still is in business. Or how about the spca / cops killing animals in harrisburg no room they said lets go shoot them in the head. these issues are not justied they are just trying to take over someone needs to step in and let the goverment know people are in charge not the goverment people.

    • Nikki,

      Please check the USARK Facebook Page for the most up to date information on any bill that USARK is working on or against. It is here:

      With respect to HB 1407, the primary sponsor withdrew, so that one is not moving at this moment and no action is scheduled.

      HB 2233 and HB 2063 are still technically active but they are not scheduled for committee hearing yet. There will be a meeting of Game and Fisheries on May 3rd but neither of these bills is on the agenda for that meeting and it is too late to add them.

      Andrew Wyatt will announce more details soon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s