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FWC Captive Wildlife Violations

Lions and tigers and – crocodiles, ocelots, and chimpanzees? These are all examples of animals that can be kept by people in Florida only by those who meet the stringent requirements for keeping these captive wildlife

In this case, “wildlife” refers to certain mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians for which possession, sale, and exhibition requires licensing and permitting from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 

The FWC has a special division that deals specifically with regulation and enforcement of rules pertaining to captive wildlife. The Captive Wildlife Office has tight rules dictating qualifications for who can keep certain classes of animals for research, exhibition, as rescues or pets.

The state also has rules barring anyone from keeping injured, orphaned, or abandoned native animals as personal pets. So even if you’re trying to do the right thing after finding an animal in distress, you could find yourself in serious trouble. 

If you violate FWC captive wildlife rules by not having the proper permitting or caging – particularly if a potentially dangerous animal is able to escape its enclosure – you could be facing serious fines and possibly criminal charges leading to jail time. 

Criminal defense in these cases requires an experienced Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney who understands the complexities of FWC statutes and is prepared with the strategies most likely to minimize the adverse impact to your life and livelihood. 

Classes of Captive Wildlife in Florida

There are three main classes of Captive Wildlife in Florida: Class I, Class II and Class III.

Class I 

These are your lions, your tigers, and your bears. As well as hippos, elephants, chimps, gorillas, baboons, cape buffalos, crocodiles, rhinos – all the types of creatures that would pose a major threat to human safety if they were to come in contact without very strict security measures. 

Class I animals cannot be kept as pets. These are almost always going to be kept either at zoos or wildlife sanctuaries. 

In order to be permitted to keep a Class I animal, the state requires: 

  • 1,000 hours of experience working with/caring for that specific species over the course of at least 1 calendar year
  • Two letters of reference regarding that experience, preferably by an existing Class I permit holder for the wildlife being applied or a representative of a professional organization, government institution, or vet. 
  • Passage of a facility and cage inspection.
  • With few exceptions, a facility with at least 5 acres, owned/leased by the applicant, with a buffer zone of at least 35 feet between the caged wildlife and the property line, and fencing at least 8 feet high.

Special licensing and permitting is required not only to keep these animals, but also to transport, sell, and exhibit them. 

Class II

This class of captive wildlife are those which pose a real or potential threat to human safety, but may require slightly less stringent measures to keep contained. Examples include alligators, bobcats, langurs, macaques, howler monkeys, giraffes, tapirs, wild cattle, coyotos, wolves, honey badgers, cassowary and ostrich. 

Some of these animals can be kept as a personal pet, but only if they have a permit, which still requires 1,000 hours of experience, letters of reference, and a facility/caging inspection. They can’t be possessed in most multi-unit dwellings, and there has to be sufficient fencing and space for the animal. 

Class III

Class III animals are any that aren’t Class I, Class II, Conditional, or Prohibited. There isn’t an exhaustive formal list of Class III captive wildlife in Florida, but common examples include parrots, foxes, skunks, racoons, lemurs, migratory birds, and many types of reptiles, turtles, tortoises and amphibians. 

For these, permitting is required for both possession (commercial or personal pet), importation, sale, exhibition, rehabilitation, etc. Here again, you need at least 1,000 hours of experience, letters of recommendations, and pass caging inspections. Some types of animals, like some turtle species, you can only have a couple of them at once. 

Domestic species like dogs, cats, hamsters, domestic rats, mice, horses, domestic pigs, llamas, chickens, peafowl – those don’t count as Class III, so they aren’t regulated by the state. 

Venomous Reptiles

Venomous reptiles are largely considered prohibited, even if they are native, due to their potential to cause serious human injury, you generally can’t keep them unless you have the proper license and permitting for trapping, research, and exhibition. Some can be kept as personal pets, but only with FWC approval after providing proof of extensive experience (1,000 hours), letters of recommendation, and minimum facility/caging requirement inspections. 

Defense Attorney for Violations of Captive Wildlife Regulations

If you’re accused of violating Florida Captive Wildlife rules, the severity of your situation will depend on the type of animal involved, what harm/cost resulted, and whether you had any prior offenses. We provide criminal defense to those who may be facing FWC violations specifically in Broward County. 

If you released or allowed to escape non native venomous reptiles or illegally possessed/sold/traded/imported any species of venomous reptile, it’s a Level Four violation, which is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. (You Could face more extensive fines from the FWC, up to $10,000 per animal.) 

Level Three violations, which are first-degree felonies, can be charged for:

  • The release or escape of nonnative reptiles of concern.
  • Illegally importing or releasing non native wildlife. 
  • Importing, possessing, or releasing fish and wildlife for which possession is prohibited. 
  • Knowingly entering false information on an application for a license or permit to possess wildlife in captivity.
  • Releasing wildlife for which only conditional possession is allowed. 
  • Violating rules that result in serious bodily injury to another person by captive wildlife or creates a condition that creates a substantial risk of death, disfigurement, or serious injury. 
  • Failure to house wildlife in a safe manner when violation results in the escape of a Class I wildlife or venomous reptile.

If you already had your license or permit revoked when the Level Three violation occurred, it’s bumped up to a Level Four violation. 

Hire a Fort Lauderdale FWC Violation Defense Lawyer

FWC violations are a somewhat niche area of Florida law. It’s important when you’re facing allegations of serious misconduct with the possibility of jail or prison time and hefty fines (not to mention damage to your reputation) that you hire legal counsel that is closely familiar with the statutes at issue – as well as how these cases are prosecuted and the most effective defense strategies to push back. 

If you have been cited or arrested in Broward County for an FWC violation, call The Ansara Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.

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