The Lacey Act is one of the broadest and most comprehensive tools in the federal chest to combat wildlife crime.
It was first introduced in the House of Representatives in the spring of 1900 by Iowa Congressman John Lacey and signed into law by President William McKinley on May 25th, 1900. Its original purpose was to preserve native game and wild birds by making it a federal crime to poach game in one state with the intention of selling it in another. It sought to add weight to state laws already in existence for the protection of game and birds. Lastly, it also addressed concerns about potential problems that can arise with the introduction of non-native, or exotic species of birds and animals into the native ecosystems.
The Lacey Act has been amended several times since it was first signed into law, broadening its definitions and increasing the penalties it could exact. In 1969, the act was expanded to include mollusks, crustaceans, amphibians, and reptiles.
Here are some “quick facts” about the Lacey Act as it stands today:
- Protects both wildlife and plants
- Prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold
- Works with federal, state, and foreign laws protecting wildlife
- Prohibits the falsification of documents for wildlife shipments (criminal penalties)
- Prohibits the failure to properly mark wildlife shipments (civil penalties)
- Administered by the Departments of Interior, Commerce, and Agriculture, which includes the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service
In March of 2012, the US Fish & Wildlife Service used the weight of the Lacey Act to enact a ban on the importation and interstate transportation of several species of large constrictor snakes.
Immediately, the United States Association of Reptiles Keepers (USARK) went to work to protest the blatant overreach of the USF&W and its misinterpretation of the Lacey Act. Years of hearings, briefs and appeals followed, even as USF&W added more constrictors to their list. Finally, on April 7th of 2017, the United States Court of Appeals sided with USARK and the ban against interstate travel of large constrictors was lifted.
Despite the attempt to use the Lacey Act as a means to control exotic pet ownership and trade in the US, it remains a critical piece of legislation for the protection of wild flora and fauna and has a significant impact on anyone wishing to own and trade exotic animals. The rules imposed on us by this act should not be ignored or taken lightly. Doing so can result in the confiscation of animals in transit, fines, and even jail time.
Make sure you are familiar with state laws regarding the transportation of exotic animals. For instance, if you ship snakes to Hawaii, you are not only breaking Hawaiian state law, you will also be breaking federal law via the Lacey Act, and subject to penalties from both.
Label all shipments appropriately, with the scientific AND common names of all the animals in the package, as well as quantities of each. Be sure to include the appropriate IATA label.
As keepers of exotic animals, it is critical for us to do so responsibly. That responsibility lies not only in providing proper food and housing, but also in respecting public safety, being sensitive to common phobias, and obeying the laws of our states and nation. In today’s climate of knee-jerk legislation, let’s not give the law-makers any ammunition to use against us!
Learn more about the Lacey Act:
To be compliant with the Lacey Act, legally a live package needs to be labeled with the word Wildlife and include quantity and species listed either externally or immediately available on a packing list under the top flap. To meet expectations of the most stringent states, we strongly suggest labeling all domestic U.S. live animal packages with "Wildlife - Live Harmless Animals" with quantity and species listed with both scientific and common names clearly visible on the outside of the box. Failing to do so may lead to delay, return, confiscation, fines, and/or legal summons.
You can add this labeling manually but the easiest way to do this is with our Lacey/IATA label, which can be purchased here, or downloaded and printed at no charge here.
See How should I label the outside of the box? for more details.