Amid expressions of concern over the livelihoods of snake dancers, the Maryland Senate's Economic Matters Committee considered yesterday whether to require the licensing of "wild animals."
The animals referred to, for the record, do not include the likes of the deer of the forst or the mice of the fields, but rather those kept by human beings as pets.
"There are more pet lions in the city of Baltimore than in the Baltimore zoo," said an appalled Stefan Graham, associate director of the zoo and an ardent supporter of the legislation.
He said that wild animal owners probably number 2,500 throughout the state.
Under the proposed measure, all of them would be required to pay $10 a year for the first two such creatures, plus $5 more for each additional, and to keep their animals in a clean cage subject to inspection by a force of state "animal wardens." Violations of the law would be a misdemeanor subject to a fine of $25 to $500.
"I don't know of any opposition to this bill," began its sponsor, Sen. Edward T. Hall (R-Anne Arundel, Calvert).
"I got a call from a snake dancer," noted chairman Harry J. McGurk (DBaltimore).
"When she comes down to perform, let me know," Hall said.
Actually, it was a serious matter, Hall insisted. There was a Baltimore woman, he said, who lost her cobra only to have it turn up in someone else's washing machine. It was downright dangerous.
"These are pets," he said, "who people have attempted to domesticate from the wild. That's an awfully hard thing to do."
As it now stands, the bill defines wild animals to be those "not ordinarily kept as a domestic pet that is of a size, viclous nature, or that has a poisonous bite, string, or other contact or characteristic that if the animal's exposed to an individual or property, an immediate danger to the life of the individual or property is created."
Bernard F. Halla, administrator of the Department of Natural Resources, said the bill should be narrowed to a specifically enumerated list of "wild animals."
"Snakes in general, no," he said. "Rattlesnakes and cobras? Yes. Boas could be a problem but not as serious. I've seen some dancers with boas." "If the dancers want to protect themselves, they should be here," said McGuirk.
The bill, asserted its lone opponent yesterday would "encourage more people to get wild animals" by creating "minimum standards" for their ownership, said James Dunn, manager of the Anne Arundel County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "It would add to the growing problems of animal irresponsibility," he said.