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Could proposed animal legislation close Metro Richmond Zoo?

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Legislation aimed at increasing public safety could possibly close popular animal exhibits in Virginia.

Under proposed legislation, only exhibits and zoos accredited by the American Zoological Association would be able to breed new animals, beginning a slow process that could eventually close places like the Metro Richmond Zoo and Maymont's Nature Center.

"Sometimes when bills are presented to legislators, they'll read through them and say 'oh this sounds good' and then there are some unintended consequences," Jim Andelin, Director of the Metro Richmond Zoo, told CBS 6.

Andelin says his zoo is one of the largest in Virginia, attracting over 200,000 visitors a year.
Part of the reason so many visit is because they get an opportunity to see "exotic" animals like lions, tigers, and bears.

"Can you imagine coming to a zoo ten years from now, no cats or primates, it would be a pretty pitiful place," Andelin says.

An increase in attention is being paid to animal regulations in the aftermath of an exotic animal escape in Ohio last year.

Governor McDonnell has directed the state to review various regulations to see what the likelihood of an animal escape is in Virginia. The Dangerous Animal Initiative convened this week to begin the process of recommending to the state what, if anything, needs to be done to increase public safety. 

Buz Bireline, Director of Exhibits at Maymont's Nature Center, hopes the Dangerous Animal Initiative provides practical recommendations to the Governor's office and the General Assembly.

"Instead of total prohibition, they need to consider what is responsible behavior that increases public safety," Bireline told CBS 6.

Delegate Chris Peace, one of the author's of the proposed legislation that has ignited this debate, told CBS 6 off camera that the Dangerous Animal Iniative's Report will be crucial in deciding what if any new rules should be passed by the General Assembly.