The common law rule regarding ownership of wild animals is wholly unsuited and inapplicable to the present condition of the state and the fox pelt industry.
Plaintiff breeder purchased a registered silver fox, which was marked with numbered tattoos in its ears. The fox escaped its enclosure and was shot by a nearby ranchman. The ranchman sold the fox's pelt to a trapper who then sold it to defendant dealer. The breeder located the fox's pelt in defendant’s possession and filed an action against defendant for the value of the pelt. The lower court entered a judgment for the breeder. On appeal, the county court tried the case as an action for replevin and entered a judgment for the return of the pelt or for the payment of its value. The state supreme court affirmed the county court's judgment.
Did defendant dealer acquired title to a fox pelt under the common law rule regarding ownership of wild animals, where the fox escaped from plaintiff’s possession, shot, and was eventually sold to defendant?
The fox was held in captivity, semi-domesticated, escaped by accident, and was pursued by its owner. Defendant dealer had knowledge that the pelt was the product of a vast industry, that it had ascertainable value, that it bore indicia of ownership, and that it was taken in a locality where its kind ferae naturae was unknown. Common law rule regarding wild animals, where it was lawful for any stranger to take them, was inapplicable to the present condition of the state and the industry involved. Thus, defendant obtained no title which it could maintain against the plaintiff.