Animal advocacy organizations have stepped up to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to change the rules when it comes to public handling of wildlife.
Baby animals including lions, bears, tigers and primates are often used as a lure by exhibitors who want to profit off of our desire to play with, feed and pose with them. There’s no denying that they’re adorable and hard to resist, but our interaction with these infants continues to cause more problems than it’s worth.
In order to meet the public’s demand, animals continue to be bred to create an endless supply of babies to draw in crowds. Sadly, these infants are taken from their mothers shortly after birth, despite the known adverse effects of being deprived of maternal care on their physical and mental well being, and then subjected to the trauma of transport and public handling. Worse is that some exhibitors continue to try to convince the public that what they’re doing is somehow contributing to conservation efforts, when all they’re doing is creating a surplus of animals no one wants to care for.
Unfortunately, when they outgrow their cuteness, lose their charm and become too big or dangerous to handle, they’re no longer valuable to those who exploit them. Once grown, they often wind up in roadside zoos, sold into the pet trade or slaughtered for their meat. Others who are more fortunate may be taken in by sanctuaries, but they end up taking up space and adding to the financial burdens of these organizations.
As of 2012, there were at least 70 exhibitors in 25 states who were currently or recently allowing the public to handle big cats, bears and/or primates, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
Now eight organizations — including the HSUS, World Wildlife Fund, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free USA, the Fund for Animals, Big Cat Rescue and the Detroit Zoological Society –are petitioning the USDA to amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and change the rules to prohibit the public from coming into direct contact with big cats, bears and non-human primates, regardless of their age. They’re also requesting that young aren’t separated from their mothers or handled before they’re weaned at a species-appropriate age, unless it’s medically necessary.
The organizations are arguing that the current regulations dealing with public handling, “place these animals at risk of harm, threaten public safety, undermine conservation efforts, and encourage irresponsible breeding.” Additionally, they note that the current rules are hard to enforce and inconsistently applied.
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is requesting public comments until October 4, 2013 to help determine what, if any, action should be taken. APHIS would also like to hear whether there are any circumstances where public contact can happen without risks to animals or people, whether exhibitors should be required to keep additional records and what kind of information should be kept and whether exhibitors and dealers should be required to identify animals with tattoos, microchips or other means.
Please submit a comment asking the USDA to make a final rule that bans all public contact with big cats and other wild animals.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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