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Stricter wild animal permit requirements impact North Texas Fair and Rodeo

People shouldn't expect to see tigers or other potentially dangerous wild animals at the North Texas Fair and Rodeo anymore.

After eight Bengal tigers made an appearance at last year's fair, the Denton Police Department's Animal Services Division created a written policy in February that outlines more stringent requirements for issuing wild animal permits. The requirements flat-out prohibit "dangerous wild animals," which, according to state law, includes tigers, lions, bears and cougars.

Glenn Carlton, the fair association's executive director, said last year's exhibit raised some concern from a "handful" of people about whether the animals were being kept humanely. While police officials said there were no issues reported in last year's exhibit — the city approved permits for the tigers — Deputy Chief Lenn Carter said the department received secondhand complaints with similar concerns.

He said the new policy, outlined in an informal staff report to the Denton City Council, is tied more closely to state law. Although Carlton said organizers hadn't planned a wild animal exhibit during this year's fair, which begins Aug. 18, he believes it could impact attendance in the future. 

"I know there's a handful of people that are against these animals being displayed, but there's thousands of kids in the city of Denton that would never get to see these animals if they weren't able to see them at the fair," he said. 

Chapter 6 in the city's code of ordinances makes it illegal to house, own or display wild animals, such as tigers, in the city limits without a permit. 

Carter said the old policy left a lot of discretion up to the animal control officer to issue the permit. It also didn't  lay out specific animals that were prohibited. But, he said, the old requirements had never been an issue until last year's tiger display.

"That's probably why the process wasn't nailed down, because it's something that wouldn't happen," Carter said. "We don't get requests for those types of displays."

Carlton said large wild animals, such as tigers, have been displayed at the fair only twice in the past 12 to 13 years. But he said they've booked other exotic animal exhibits, such as birds, lizards and the occasional alligator. 

He said organizers had already booked a lumberjack show instead of a wild animal exhibit for this year's fair.

Last year's tiger display was permitted after the exhibitor met three requirements: The animals were kept in an inspected and secured enclosure, the exhibitor had veterinary certification for the animal's health, and the exhibitor was in possession of an exotic pet permit, according to the informal staff report to the City Council.

The city's animal services director, Paul O'Neill, said the new requirements all but ensure that potentially dangerous wild animals will not be displayed in the city. The policy says the animals must receive a "microchip" with an identification number, an inspection from a local veterinarian, proof that the exhibitor received the inspection and minimum liability insurance of $4 million.

Among other requirements, the policy also prohibits "an exhibition featuring any animal that is on the Texas Department of State Health Services-Dangerous Wild Animal list." The list identifies 19 dangerous wild animals, including lions, tigers, bears, cheetahs, jaguars, bobcats and coyotes.

"This is something I [implemented] in the previous city I was in," said O'Neill, who formerly served as the animal services director in Midland. "I've just never been a big fan of wildlife exhibits or traveling shows. They pose a pretty sizable liability to the city."

O'Neill emphasized that the new policy simply adheres to state law more closely.

"It was very easy to get the permit, and that's kind of what worried people," O'Neill said. "I don't have any experience with tigers; most animal control officers don't ... and we're pretty much at the mercy of the vendor to say, 'My fencing is secure' or 'My cage is secure.'"

JULIAN GILL can be reached at 940-566-06882. 

FEATURED PHOTO: Dangerous wild animals, including tigers, lions, bears and cougars, can no longer be displayed in Denton after the police department's Animal Services Division created a written policy earlier this year that outlines more stringent requirements for issuing wild animal permits.
(Dallas Morning News file photo)