Tasmanian devil death could spark new law

ABQ Zoo tasmanian devil Jasper
ABQ Zoo Tasmanian devil Jasper

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The death of one of the Rio Grande Zoo’ Tasmanian devils in October could spark a new law. Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, is proposing legislation to make sure anyone who tries to hurt the zoo animals is punished.

In 2004, an attempt to pet the jaguar at the zoo ended with a man losing a finger. In 2010, college students broke into the zoo to snap close-ups in the giraffe, sea lion and rhino exhibits. Then, last October the death of Jasper, the Tasmanian devil, launched a criminal investigation.

“We thought, there has to be some kind of repercussions if you do something to zoo animals,” said Julie Miller Rugg, executive director of the New Mexico BioPark Society.

So, the BioPark Society is working with legislators to make it happen.

“This is just something we felt very passionate about bringing forward, especially in light of what happened with Jasper our Tasmanian devil,” Miller Rugg said.

House Bill 300 would make it a petty misdemeanor to go into an animal enclosure or touch an animal without permission.

“Anybody who messes with the animals here should be put to justice, especially if they hurt or kill one of the animals,” said Dezmond Gutierrez.

A petty misdemeanor can come with a punishment of no more than six months in jail and up to a $500 fine.

However, not all zoo-goers think it’s enough to do the trick.

“Well, I think when you go to the zoo you should be respectful of the animals, and I think if somebody’s going to do that and nobody’s around, a law won’t help,” said Lynette Darrow.

“I don’t believe they need to make laws to protect the animals. The zoo should have rules in place to protect the animals,” said Lee Mayville.

The city said it is still unclear if someone killed Jasper or if there was an accident.

The city does support House Bill 300.

A similar proposal passed the House four years ago but died in the Senate. The newest bill would also amend animal cruelty laws to create a punishment for killing reptiles at the zoo.

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