INDIANAPOLIS - More than 30 wild animals around the state - from alligators to bears and bobcats - will no longer be regulated by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The agency recently sent letters to anyone with a wild animal possession permit saying an appellate court ruling - and the Supreme Court's refusal to review the case last month - means they have no authority to impose rules, restrictions or permits on legally-owned wild animals.
"The DNR has really protected public safety - keeping track of potential bad guys and knowing where the safety risks are in the state," said Lori Gagen, executive director of the Black Pine Animal Sanctuary in Albion.
"The DNR had everyone's back and now there is nothing. This ruling has stripped them of all their authority."
DNR Spokesman Phil Bloom said there were 263 wild animal possession permits. The vast majority are for smaller animals, such as raccoons, squirrels and striped skunks.
But 38 of them were considered Class 3 animals. Those included 12 venomous snakes; eight black bears; seven alligators; six bobcats; two gila monsters; one wolf; one tiger and one cougar.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruling related to whether the DNR had the ability to regulate or ban the hunting of deer behind fences on private property, also known as captive hunting. It said the legislature has the authority but attempts to reach a middle ground on high-fenced hunting failed this session. Then the Indiana Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
The wild animal possession permit is in administrative rules - not statute passed by legislators.
"This basically throws open the door," Bloom said. "It's something that we regulated for a period of time in very public and open process through administrative rules procedures. We'll just have to see where it goes from here and what the will of the legislature is."
Many animals would still be covered under a federal U.S. Department of Agriculture permit but not all of them.
For instance, the federal permit covers only mammals. But the state permit covered venomous snakes or alligators and crocodiles over five feet long.
Gagen said she received a letter because Black Pine had a wild animal possession permit for Gus the alligator - who is about 9 feet long.
She said the letter was very brief and didn't reference what animals were affected. She became alarmed and immediately called for clarification.
Also, the USDA requires a federal license only if the person is exhibiting, breeding or selling the animals.
The state permit went further to cover anyone simply possessing wild animals as pets. It had extensive enclosure and care requirements for the animals, as well as inspection powers.
The DNR also is no longer issuing or regulating game breeder permits for animals such as pheasants, quail and deer. This was expected but the extension of the court ruling to exotic wild animals has been surprising.
"This could get out of control," said Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange. She hadn't heard from the DNR and didn't fully understand the legal reasoning.