Adult Eastern Cottontail
A comment by my fellow blogger, Steve Mills, has motivated me to write about the law. This will be a multi-part blog as there are many items to cover.
The wild animals in Tennessee are protected by laws from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Additionally, birds are protected by Tennessee law, and federal law from U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
There are several reasons for this, and one of the most important ones is to protect people from the animals (yes, even sweet, little rabbits). The laws also protect the animals so that species don't become extinct, over-hunted, over and under populated, abused, etc.
In general, it is illegal to have any wild animal in your possession for any reason. The ONLY exception is for non-native species, which includes pigeons, English (house) sparrows, and European starlings. You can have as many of those as you like!
If you are found to have a native Tennessee wild animal in your possession, you can be prosecuted. And, that's not an idle threat; it is a promise. The only exception is if you find one in need of care, and you may keep it in your possession long enough to get it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
For instance, you found a baby squirrel and saved its life. It is now very tame, very cute and you keep it for a pet. Your friends and family all know about it. Your friend wants to bring over his/her friend to see it. Maybe this person is a wildlife agent doing an undercover sting. Or maybe the friend thinks it's terrible to keep a wild animal in a cage. The next thing you know is there are TWRA and local police cars in front of your house. The animal is confiscated , your kids are crying, and you are being charged with breaking state law. I am not kidding here! I have seen it happen and I will share it with you later.
By the way, frogs, toads, and turtles are animals - and covered by law as well.
As for songbirds - let's say, you give your kid a BB gun. He shoots at birds and kills several of those nuisance blue jays that are hanging around. A neighbor who is devoted to bird watching sees this, and reports it. Yep, you are now in trouble with the state and the feds!
Now let's talk about birds of prey, also known as raptors, also known as hawks, owls, vultures and eagles. You are hiking with your family, and come across a beautiful red-tailed hawk feather on the ground. It will fit right in with some project you are working on, or your kid wants to take it for show and tell. The federal government will be happy to press charges for that! Raptor feathers, even those found on the ground and not on the bird, are illegal to have unless you have a permit. Or unless you are a native American Indian and can prove it.
Do you think some of these laws are extreme? Come back for Part Two and learn why they aren't.