Living next to a state-owned park in Florida might lead neighbors to expect they would be living next to native species. However, more exotic critters will be allowed if a bill passed Friday by the Florida Legislature is signed into law.
House Bill 1117, known as the Jurassic Park Bill, would allow 16 state zoos and aquariums to lease state-owned land to conduct research on animals, including giraffes, zebras and rhinos.
Supporters say the bill will help preserve endangered species from places such as Africa.
Laurie MacDonald, Defenders of Wildlife's Florida director, questions the reasoning.
"I am just astonished people who care about conservation of species on other continents would want to put non-natives on our public lands," MacDonald said.
Opponents say non-native animals will endanger other species and pose property risks, as well as placing additional demands on the state wildlife resource employees at a time when funding is scarce.
Dave Sumpter, who heads Wildlands Conservation, said allowing exotic species to be housed on public lands also will disturb long-term plans to link the natural travel corridors for native species such as bears - or even lure native species into problem behaviors.
"If you have a block of land that's got to be contained specifically to hold zebras, it also won't allow for passing of our native species, like deer."
The Jurassic Park Bill also allows for exotic, non-native birds. Sumpter notes the inability to contain winged animals means they're likely to escape the designated habitat. Opponents also question why public lands should be available where private lands could be used instead.
The bill now goes to the governor's desk. Its text is online at flasenate.gov.