Ordinances outlaw drunken elephants, stealing alligators, wrestling bears

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 26, 2009

No pigs allowed within city limits, no roller skating on the street, no Dumpster diving — no drunken elephants?

The City of Natchez has many laws that seem somewhat outlandish, but one dating back to 1810 is still on the books, and it all started with an elephant show.

According to Helen Smith, who owns historic Texada on South Wall St. with her husband, Randy, the original owner of the historic home wanted to treat Natchez to a special show.

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An ad in the newspaper dating Jan. 15, 1810, claimed Mr. Texada was having a live elephant show at his house.

“Apparently the elephant that Mr. Texada was showing in 1810 was given some beer to drink or found some beer to drink, because now there’s a law that it’s illegal to have your drunken elephant on the street,” Helen Smith said.

She said the silly law is one that’s known across the country, and it even showed up in her son’s high school sociology book this year.

“(The book) is talking about silly laws still on the books,” she said.

And while the law was established in the early 1800s and is probably hardly applicable, more recent ordinances adopted in 2001 are good for a light chuckle as well.

For example, any dog or other animal that rummages through garbage is deemed “mischievous” by city law.

Conversely, any person that rummages through another’s garbage without consent is breaking the law.

According to city law, pigs or free-roaming livestock are not allowed within city limits.

Any bicycle enthusiast must first have a bell or horn attached to their bicycle to ride city streets, and if they do, it’s strictly prohibited to cling to a moving vehicle while on the bike.

Across the river, other wacky ordinances are on the books.

To bee or not to bee

Raising beehives may be a good way to make money during the economic downturn, but before getting too invested in the project, potential beekeepers should know that in Concordia Parish they can only place four hives within 100 feet of any residence.

And if they live in a subdivision, they’re out of luck.

The ordinance restricting where beehives could be placed was adopted in 2001 after police jurors started getting complaints about beehives in neighborhoods, former Police Jury Secretary Russell Wagoner said.

“We had complaints from people getting bee stings while they were mowing their grass and things like that,” Wagoner said. “We felt like the best thing to do was to put a distance where people could actually place beehives.”

Only one person objected to the ordinance at the time it was passed.

“I know of other people who had beehives in their yards, and they might have only had one or two, but this particular guy had 10 or 20,” Wagoner said.

A violation of the beehive ordinance could result in a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.

No psychics allowed

Adopted in 1954, a law banning fortune-telling specifically names palmistry, astrology and reading tea leaves as criminal offenses, but also includes “any and all other forms or types of fortune telling.”

The ordinance grants exceptions for churches, benevolent societies, schools or charitable benefits, “sponsored by bona fide nonprofit organizations recognized by the police jury.”

Police Jury President Melvin Ferrington said he has no idea why the ordinance is on the books, but Wagoner said he has a theory.

“There were probably a lot more religious people in that era, and fortune telling was probably a no-no because it is forbidden in the Bible,” he said.

But while fortune telling may be considered an unlawful offense in Concordia parish, the ordinance declaring it so doesn’t have any provisions for consequences should one violate it.

Creature canons

While most folks may be familiar with animal welfare laws prohibiting dog and cockfighting, they might not realize that their next favorite animal-based sport — bear wrestling — is illegal.

A Louisiana statute defines bear wrestling as a “match or contest between one or more persons and a bear for the purpose of fighting or engaging in a physical altercation.”

The penalty for bear wrestling, promoting bear wrestling or training a bear for a bear wrestling event can be up to six months jail and a $500 fine.

Other laws that are likely unique to Louisiana include theft of crawfish and theft of alligator, Seventh Judicial District Attorney Brad Burget said.

Alligator theft is defined as, “misappropriation or taking of an alligator, an alligator’s skin, or a part of an alligator, whether dead or alive, belonging to another.”

The consequences for alligator theft of $500 or more can be 10 years in prison and a $3,000 fine.

For a theft of less than $500 but more than $300, the offender faces a two-year sentence and $2,000 penalty, and for a theft valued at less than $300, the offender faces six months jail and the possibility of a $500 fine.

Just in case someone has ever mistakenly taken another person’s alligator, they don’t have to worry — the statute defining alligator theft requires the prosecuting attorney to prove intent.

The crime of theft of crawfish is defined as “the misappropriation or taking of crawfish belonging to another or proceeds derived from the sale of such crawfish,” and potential crawfish rustlers face the same jail sentences and fines as alligator thieves.

“I’ve never prosecuted anything like that, but with what they’re charging for crawfish these days I wouldn’t be surprised someone would consider it,” Burget said.