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"Jurassic Park bill" for zoos heads to Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott will decide whether 16 Florida zoos and aquariums should be able to lease state-owned land to conduct "enhanced research" on a variety of animals, including giraffes, zebras and rhinoceroses.

The idea, HB 1117, was overwhelmingly popular with the Legislature. The Senate approved the proposal 39-1 on Friday. The House passed it last week, 113-2. The dissenters were Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

Rep. Shawn Harrison, R-Temple Terrace, introduced the bill out of fondness for Lowry Park Zoo, as detailed by the Times in this story. A zoo official hailed the idea for putting Florida "on the map as far as being progressive on conservation."

Opponents, including Laurie MacDonald of Defenders of Wildlife, dubbed it the "Jurassic Park bill" due to the risk of animal escape. They warned the exotic animals could introduce nonnative diseases.

Although the bills talk about research, the main reason the zoos want the land is to have room to create large breeding populations, Killmar explained. Right now they lack the space for breeding large herds of giraffes and rhinos. If they need more, they have to import them at great expense.

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