We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
The director of the Reston Zoo in Reston, Va., is headed to jail for drowning a wallaby at the popular, privately owned facility. The animal cruelty conviction raises new questions about what rules and regulations govern the keeping of exotic animals. Kojo explores the state and federal laws on caring for and showing wild animals.
- Nancy McToldridge Director, Santa Barbara Zoo; Member of the Accreditation Commission of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums
- David Favre Professor of Property and Animal Law, Michigan State University College of Law
- Nicole Paquette Deputy Director, Program and Policy, The Humane Society of the United States
Photos: Non-Accredited Zoos Across The U.S.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's one of those stories that makes people cringe. A wallaby with an eye injury was apparently drowned in a plastic bucket. The zoo director who was responsible claimed she euthanized the animal using a lethal injection.
MR. KOJO NNAMDILast week, a judge convicted the Reston Zoo director of animal cruelty and of possessing animal anesthesia without a license and sentenced her to 30 days in jail, the conviction raising new questions about who regulates zoos, especially the smaller roadside zoos that are privately owned and operated. It also leaves animal lovers wondering how to tell whether one of these unaccredited zoos is following the rules or is mistreating its animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture licenses all mammal exhibits from zoos to circuses, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredits its members.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut what does that mean? With two other roadside zoos in our area also facing penalties for lax operations, what should the public be alert to when visiting wild animals? Joining us in studio to talk about this is Nicole Paquette. Nicole Paquette, who's deputy director for program and policy with The Humane Society of the United States, Nicole Paquette, thank you for joining us.
MS. NICOLE PAQUETTEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from Santa Barbara is Nancy McToldridge, director of the Santa Barbara Zoo and a member of the Accreditation Commission of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Nancy McToldridge, thank you for joining us.
MS. NANCY MCTOLDRIDGEThank you.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join this conversation, just call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. The number again, 800-433-8850. What is your favorite zoo, and why? Nicole Paquette, on the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act lays out rules for exhibiting warm-blooded animals, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the federal body that enforces that law. Tell us what a Class C exhibitor's license is and who needs one to show animals to the public.
PAQUETTEWell, a Class C license exhibitor is anybody who owns a -- owns mammals, warm-blooded mammals and exhibits to the public. So if you have, let's say, a lion, a tiger, a monkey, and you exhibit that animal to the public, you must have a Class C license. And you must comply with a series of standards that are set forth in the Animal Welfare Act.
NNAMDIJoining us by telephone is David Favre. He is a professor of property and animal law at Michigan State University College of Law. He joins us by phone from East Lansing, Mich. David Favre, thank you for joining us.
PROF. DAVID FAVREA pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIThe Reston Zoo director, David, was convicted of animal cruelty, which is a violation of state law in Virginia. Explain how state animal cruelty laws work and how they differ from state to state.
FAVREState animal cruelty laws deal with the care -- well, two different things, intentional acts against animals and the care and keeping of animals. And it's a rule, a set of laws that exists in every one of the 50 states. They vary indeed from state to state depending upon what the focus of the legislature has been. And one of the terms in most cruelty laws is that you shall not cruelly treat an animal or cruelly kill an animal. So I don't know exactly what the testimony was at the trial, but it's unusual that the death of one animal is found to be a criminal violation.
NNAMDIYou know, under the USDA licensing process, we wondered how often most zoos are inspected, particularly the small roadside zoos. So we asked David Sachs, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to explain who is covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act. Here's what he had to say.
MR. DAVID SACHSThat act and its regulations cover situations where there are warm-blooded animals that are being exhibited to the public for compensation. So that's going to include everything from zoos to circuses to aquariums, petting farms. If you were to own a tattoo parlor and you have a tiger in a cage outside of your establishment, you would need a USDA exhibit license because that animal is being used as a business draw for you.
MR. DAVID SACHSSo you are receiving compensation, if you will, from that animal. If you are a university and you have a live mascot that you bring into your stadium on Saturday football games, you would also need a USDA exhibit license.
NNAMDIWe asked the USDA spokesperson, David Sachs, about the -- how the agency performs inspections, and he says that the agency does indeed perform regular inspections.
SACHSWe conduct routine unannounced inspections on every USDA licensed exhibitor in this country. So every zoo, every petting farm, every everyone gets inspected by us. If our inspectors see something that's not in adherence to the regulations, they'll cite it on an inspection report, and the facility has to, you know, correct those measures.
NNAMDINancy McToldridge, what is your understanding of how often most zoos are inspected, particularly the small roadside zoos?
MCTOLDRIDGEI can speak from our experience that we are inspected annually by USDA, and they are unannounced, as he said. The AZA accredits member institutions every five years, conducts a complete inspection.
NNAMDIWhat is your understanding of how often they're inspected, Nicole Paquette?
PAQUETTEWell, it's my understanding is that there is a tier system, so depending on how many -- how often a facility gets complaints or problems, they would base it on a three-tier system. So often, facilities get inspected once a year, twice a year, three times a year, and, if there's numerous complaints, those inspections could be multiple times a year.
NNAMDINancy McToldridge, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is an organization that accredits its members. Explain how that process works and who makes up your membership.
MCTOLDRIDGEWe have -- of the over 2,500 licensed USDA-licensed institutions in the country, we have 223 that are accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. As I've said, every five years, a member institution must go through the -- the entire accreditation process again.
MCTOLDRIDGEIt begins with completing a rather lengthy application and submitting a very detailed summary of all of your programs, policies, et cetera, that relate to your entire business, from your governing authority and your finances to animal care, animal health, to your guest services, safety and security practices, conservation, research and education. This application is then reviewed by a member of the commission, the commission being 12 voting members and three advisers who are appointed by the AZA incoming chair. Annually, we serve six-year terms on that body.
MCTOLDRIDGEAnd then the person on the commission who reviews the application certifies that it's complete or not or works to get it complete, and then a team of peers -- it's a peer evaluation system -- is selected to go into the institution and do a complete study. These could last two-and-a-half days to five days depending on the size of the institution. The commission then meets the director of the institution being inspected, appears -- the commission meets twice a year. They appear before the commission.
MCTOLDRIDGEWe delve a little deeper into any issues that may have been identified by the visiting team, and then we vote whether to accredit for another five-year period, table an application because we feel it's not quite ready to be accredited but we feel that, within a one-year period, that application could become complete and the issues could be resolved or we deny accreditation.
NNAMDIWe're having a conversation on regulating zoos, especially small roadside zoos and looking for your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you like going to smaller petting zoos or other so-called roadside zoos? Have you ever seen something at a zoo that made you question the treatment of the animals there? 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. David Favre, the federal Animal Welfare Act applies only to warm-blooded animals. What does it require in terms of treatment and living conditions for these animals?
FAVREWell, it's primarily focused on the physical structures and care of the animal, size of space, the protection of the public. Often, they talk about the design of cages to make sure that the visiting public cannot be injured by the animals, food, water, sunlight, shelter, that sort of thing. It's -- it provides physical space and food and water. It's not very sophisticated. The ACP accreditation process is really much more sophisticated than the federal regulations.
NNAMDINicole Paquette, the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve & Zoo north of Frederick, Md. was fined $12,000 last summer for violations that the USDA said included excessive feces in a goat trailer, insufficient training for an employee who was mauled by a jaguar. Those reportedly took place over several years. Is it common to have one USDA action for several years' worth of incidents?
PAQUETTEYes. It is very common. Oftentimes, once they -- inspectors have gone out and done their yearly or every other year inspections, they essentially -- if they find any noncompliant items, they will document it. And if they go back and the problem still arises, they will further document. And oftentimes, they lump all of these citations together. And if they do become to the level that they are worried about or they want to take further action, they then, I guess, lump them altogether and proceed with a process to go ahead and officially cite them.
NNAMDIDavid, how often are state animal cruelty laws invoked to go after zoos or individuals who keep exotic animals?
FAVRENot very often. It is somewhat unusual that this is happened under the state cruelty law, but it's always there as an available tool. It's just that it's not really -- it's not a regulatory system. It doesn't have standards in place like the exhibitors would have to meet under the Class C exhibitor licensing.
NNAMDINancy, how are -- and this for you, too, Nicole. How are smaller roadside zoos different from bigger regional zoos like the National Zoo in Washington in the eyes of the law?
MCTOLDRIDGEFirst of all, there are many, many small zoos in this country who are excellent and are accredited members of AZA, so it's not just the size. The main difference between what you would call roadside zoos and AZA accredited zoos is that the AZA zoos meet very high standards which go much deeper than the USDA regulations because we are concerned with all species and all parts of the operation, including financial stability.
PAQUETTEYes, yes. Obviously, if you are AZA accredited, you do have to meet much more extensive accreditation standards than under the Animal Welfare Act. And then also on top of the Animal Welfare Act, we've got state laws in approximately 44 states, many of those state laws regulating exotic animals kept at smaller zoos and as private pets are very minimal as well, mostly dealing with the private pet ownership versus the actual zoo side of the industry.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Nicole Paquette. She is deputy director for program and policy with The Humane Society of the United States. Nancy McToldridge is director of the Santa Barbara Zoo and a member of the Accreditation Commission of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. And David Favre is a professor of property and animal law at Michigan State University College of Law. David, you got to go teach. Thank you for joining us.
FAVREThank you so much.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you think the existing laws do a good job of making sure that exotic animals and zoos and other facilities are well cared for? 800-433-8850. By the way, what is your favorite zoo, and why? You can also send us email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about regulating roadside zoos. We're talking with Nancy McToldridge. She is director of the Santa Barbara Zoo and a member of the accreditation commission of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. She joins us by phone from Santa Barbara. Nicole Paquette is deputy director of the -- for program and policy with The Humane Society of the United States. She joins us in studio.
NNAMDIYou can join us by telephone, 800-433-8850, by tweet, @kojoshow, by going to our website, kojoshow.org or by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you like to go to smaller petting zoos and other so-called roadside zoos? Has the recent incident at the Reston Zoo caused you to rethink that? 800-433-8850. Nancy, what standards do zoos have to meet to earn accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums? You're a member of the accreditation commission. What do you look for or require from your applicants?
PAQUETTEOne of those standards is quite a lengthy document detailing everything from animal health and animal care to guest services, strategic planning, finance safety, security, et cetera. But what we are really looking for is an institution that meets modern zoological practices and philosophies, which refers to the practices and philosophies that are commonly accepted as the norm in the profession. And they constantly change. We are constantly raising the bar, so to speak, as we learn more and become better stewards of the animals in our care.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Kirk in La Plata, Md. Kirk, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KIRKHello, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call.
KIRKYou asked my favorite zoo?
NNAMDII certainly did.
KIRKThat would be the Akron, Ohio zoo.
KIRKBecause it doesn't have a lot of land in there and it's very close together, so you could really get up close. You could reach over and pat the penguins on the head.
NNAMDIAnd the proximity is what you like about the Akron, Ohio zoo?
KIRKAnd also the -- I'm a tiger fan, and they have a great tiger pen with a lot of space, and there's no bars. There's Plexiglas windows.
KIRKAnd one time I took a pair of stuffed tigers to show the real tiger, and the male took one look at my tiger, who was, like, about 2.5 feet long, turned tail and sprayed. It was like 30 feet away, big, thick stream about the size of your little finger for about five seconds. And I just thought, what an odd thing to have happen.
NNAMDIWell, Kirk, have you ever seen the Albuquerque, N.M. zoo?
KIRKNo, I never have.
NNAMDIBecause we got a tweet from Lorinda, (sp?) who says, "I've seen a lot of zoos over 50 years. Albuquerque, N.M. has the best one: a polar bear window, elephants, giraffes and youth programming." Meanwhile, Bob says, "The Baltimore Aquarium. While not a traditional zoo, it houses way more than fish. Well worth the cost for a good day in Baltimore." Indeed, I did that about a month ago. Kirk, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIYou, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you ever seen something at a zoo that made you question the treatment of the animals there? Do you think the existing laws do a good job of making sure exotic animals in zoos and other facilities are well cared for? We're both -- and this question is for both you, Nancy McToldridge, and you, Nicole Paquette. We're coming up later this month on the one year anniversary of the wild animal release in Zanesville, Ohio.
NNAMDIYou'll remember Terry Thompson released dozens of wild animals from enclosures on his property and then committed suicide. Out of concern for public safety, authorities shot and killed 49 of the 56 animals that escaped, including tigers, lions and bears. What are the laws that govern exotic animals on private property if they're not in a zoo or not shown to the public? First you, Nicole.
PAQUETTEYes. Well, the majority of states have addressed this issue. They vary from state to state versus an outright prohibition on dangerous wild animals to a regulation where they do allow people to own the animals. However, they require a license system and some reporting requirement. And then, still, there are states -- six states, in fact -- that have absolutely no laws. And it's the wild, wild West out there. Some of those states are Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Alabama.
PAQUETTEAnd those states, it's pretty much a free-for-all unless your city or county regulates the keeping of those animals. And with all those laws, they're really a mix. They range from what species that are covered all the way down to the exemptions. And the bulk of those states actually, in fact, exempt USDA license holders which would mean the smaller roadside zoos and all of the rest, circuses and what not, are exempt from coverage of those state laws.
NNAMDIHow did that Ohio case prompt states to re-examine the laws?
PAQUETTEWell, that actually did do a wake-up call. Prior to that, there definitely was state activity. Numerous states, in response to an incident that would have happened in their state -- an injury, a death of somebody by a exotic animal -- has prompted states to take action and pass state laws. However, the Zanesville incident really did kind of send a wake-up call. Many states instantly responded. A legislator in South Carolina introduced a bill.
PAQUETTEIt prompted Virginia to act as well. So, again, it just really highlighted for these states: what is on the books, should we be re-examining our current law, and what tweaks do we need to be making to those?
NNAMDINancy McToldridge, care to comment?
MCTOLDRIDGEFirst of all, stepping back on just a proud moment, the Albuquerque Biopark, the Akron Zoo and the National Aquarium in Baltimore are all fine accredited members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. So I'm pleased to hear that people are enjoying that.
NNAMDIOur caller will be happy to hear that. Go ahead.
MCTOLDRIDGEAnd the incident in Ohio was terribly tragic, and following that because -- especially because the Columbus Zoo was so near and so involved in the rescue effort, the accredited zoos in the state which are the Toledo Zoo, the Akron Zoo, Cleveland Zoo, Columbus Zoo, The Wilds and the Cincinnati Zoo spearheaded the advocacy effort to pass that state law.
NNAMDIOn to Wendy in Silver Spring, Md. Wendy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WENDYThank you for taking my call, Kojo. My feeling is that the current law, they're not protecting the animals sufficiently. My concern is that the smaller, less well-funded zoos do not have the ability to provide the environments and the enrichment activities that the animals really need. And I'd like to see the Humane Society take an active role. Here, I feel that they should be banned, and I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDII think both of guests would like to comment on that. First you, Nicole Paquette.
PAQUETTESure. Yes. Absolutely. I mean these -- some of the smaller roadside zoos definitely are -- need assistance. You know, we have seen all across the country some of the smaller facilities in poor conditions. We've witnessed inappropriate care, inappropriate caging. And again, I think our laws do need to be improved. We also need stronger enforcements. So, you know, our law is only as good as the enforcement mechanism that's put in place. So, you know, once -- for example, Ohio.
PAQUETTEOhio is now in the process of actually implementing their law. And we do need aggressive enforcement action taken. To date, as far as we know, only one person has registered with the state to obtain a license, and they have until the first of November. We need to see stronger enforcement. We need to reach out to these individuals, and we need to ensure that they are properly taken care of. Unfortunately, a lot of these laws, once they're put on the books, because of funding mechanisms, they're complaint driven.
PAQUETTEAnd so once somebody goes to one of these facilities or they happen to find a monkey living in their neighbor's backyard or in a basement, they then complain, and then somebody comes out and takes action. You know, you can look in any town, U.S.A., and somebody has one of these animals. Somebody has a boa constrictor, a monkey, a tiger, a smaller cat. You name it, someone has it, and we really do need to tighten our laws.
PAQUETTEThe Humane Society of the United States is working vigilantly across the country to improve our state laws and to enact stronger laws to ensure that not only the private pet owners are covered but the smaller roadside zoos.
NNAMDINancy McToldridge, what do you say?
MCTOLDRIDGEI totally agree with Nicole. The accreditation logo for AZA is like Good Housekeeping stamp of approval. People should look for that. That's what sets these excellent institutions apart from the roadside zoos. But our main concern as -- is HSUS is the animal welfare. And so we offer a mentoring program for the struggling institutions who would like to meet the standards for accreditation and obtain them through professional courtesy.
MCTOLDRIDGEWe can assign a mentor, a professional in an accredited zoo to work with that institution to help them upgrade their facility and meet the standards that we can be assured of providing the good animal welfare.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you like going to smaller petting zoos or other so-called roadside zoos? And have you ever seen anything at one of those zoos that made you question the treatment of the animals there? 800-433-8850. Nicole, how and why do people tend to start collecting wild or exotic animals and then decide to open a little zoo or wildlife park?
PAQUETTEYeah. Again, you would be so surprised of how many of these animals are out there. Oftentimes what we hear is that, you know, individuals get a dog or a cat, and then, all of a sudden, they want something a little bit more exotic. They then look to get a -- maybe a snake or another type of animal. But typically, you know, somebody falls in love with a monkey. They obtain one. They realize that oftentimes, it's too difficult to own, and then we're left in a situation with what am I going to do with that animal.
PAQUETTEAlso, you also get that -- individuals get that bug in there saying, oh my god. I love having this tiger. I want another tiger, another tiger and another tiger. And all of a sudden, they have a menagerie of animals. What we then see is that they essentially realize that they are too costly to take care of. They decide that they need to get some kind of income coming in, and they open up a little roadside zoo and charge a fee. And that's what triggers the USDA license exhibitor.
PAQUETTEBut what we're really -- what we do see though, unfortunately, is so many people get these animals and they're simply not able to properly take care of them. They are not properly trained. They are not properly versed in all of the numerous unique characteristics of these animals. And you end up seeing these animals languish in horrible situations. And it's not until a law has passed or somebody happens to notice that the animals actually there that action takes -- that some action takes place to help assist that animal.
PAQUETTEThere is a sanctuary association, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries that does also help some of these smaller facilities, helps them get accredited and really encourages people to rescue these animals versus adopt -- versus purchase these animals. There's no need to be buying these animals and breeding these animals. We need to stop the breeding, and we need to really start rescuing.
PAQUETTEThere are so many unwanted animals out there, and we just -- we're hoping through these state laws that we're going to decrease the demand out there and also decrease the amount of animals that are in private hands.
NNAMDIDo you have wild or exotic animals at your home? If you do, we'd like to hear from you, 800-433-8850. What do you see in their future? Are there some states that have especially high numbers of exotic animals in private hands?
PAQUETTEThere are. The one problem with knowing exactly the amount of animals that are out there is that because of the patchwork of state laws, not every state requires you to license or register your animal. So while some states do that, others do not. And then again, there are six states that have absolutely nothing. But from what we can tell, probably the highest concentration of animals would be in Florida, Ohio, Texas and a handful of other states where you probably have your highest concentration. But we do see these animals all across the country.
NNAMDIOn to Leon in Hagerstown, Md. Leon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LEONThank you. I'm curious why reptiles are totally excluded from this conversation, why they're unregulated, why there's no laws for them, for people that display reptiles for gain as in there still are roadside reptile displays and people that travel around, both to schools and to fairs, showing them. There's no consideration for their husbandry nor the safety of people. And consequently, it seems to me that there's something really lacking in the conversation.
NNAMDINancy McToldridge, reptiles -- the display of reptiles in road side zoos.
MCTOLDRIDGEYes, it is true that the USDA concerns itself only with warm-blooded mammals. In part, that's due to resources and limited resources. But the AZA standards do cover all (word?) of animal, including stick insects. We are required to provide adequate housing, adequate handling, safety, behavioral enrichment for reptiles, proper animal health for reptiles, et cetera. So reptiles are considered equal with warm-blooded mammals from the point of view of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
NNAMDICare to comment, Nicole?
PAQUETTEYes. He's -- the caller is absolutely right. Unfortunately, the Animal Welfare Act does exclude reptiles. And, unfortunately, numerous state laws exclude reptiles as well. The majority of them do cover some of the alligators and crocodile species, but they don't get into a lot of the snakes. And, you know, this reptile industry is a booming business. There are -- just like there are puppy mills out there, there are snake mills. And snake are being bred in large quantities, being shipped to pet stores all across the country.
NNAMDIAnd people show up at large outdoor events with hundreds of thousands of people in crowds carrying large reptiles around their necks. What's up with that?
PAQUETTEThey do indeed do that. And they also have these -- the reptile shows. They travel all across the country, and people go there and buy snakes. They buy lots of different types of reptiles. And, you know, the unassuming person is purchasing these animals without even knowledge about how to care for these animals. You know, the -- I see those individuals all the time out in fairs, having a snake wrapped around their shoulders.
PAQUETTEIt's obviously some machismo-type of thing, but, unfortunately, those animals should not be out in the public. They are dangerous. And they also do transmit salmonella. So, I mean, then we need to be careful. Children often go up to these animals and try to pet them, and they -- and then there's no proper sanitation afterwards. So we do need to be concerned about the public aspect of this, and I absolutely agree that laws need to be put in place to regulate the reptile industry.
NNAMDIWhat does the federal law say about selling wild animals across state lines?
PAQUETTEWell, the -- there are a few laws on the books about that. There was a law passed in 2003 that prohibits the interstate transport of large cats. However, it does exempt the -- a USDA license holder. So if I wanted to purchase a lion and I lived in Texas, and as a pet, I could not do that over the interstate. I'd have to buy that within my own state. There is also a recently enacted regulation on the federal level that prohibits the interstate transport for constrictor snakes.
PAQUETTESo that is a fairly new law. There also is federal legislation pending to further add five more snakes to that list. And there's also a federal bill pending to limit the interstate transport of all primates as well.
NNAMDILeon, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Mark in Lisbon, Md. Mark, your turn.
MARKHi, Kojo. I went to a zoo in Thurmont one time, and there is a giant, I believe, grizzly bear in a really small cage. And it was almost sad to look at. So I was wondering if anybody knows whether that grizzly is still alive, and does it stay in that little cage 24 hours a day?
NNAMDINobody in this studio does. Nancy McToldridge, do you?
MCTOLDRIDGENo. They are not on an accredited facility, so I'm unfamiliar with it.
NNAMDIMark, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, more on this conversation about regulating roadside zoos and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think the existing laws do a good job of making sure that exotic animals in zoos and other facilities are well cared for? Do you have exotic animals in your own home? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about regulating so-called roadside zoos with Nicole Paquette, deputy director, program and policy, with The Humane Society of the United States, and Nancy McToldridge, director of the Santa Barbara Zoo and a member of the Accreditation Commission on the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Nicole, you had some advice for our last caller.
PAQUETTEYes. I would encourage you to actually reach out to the USDA because you could essentially contact them, describe what you saw at that facility, and then they do have an obligation to look into that and further contact you. So I would really encourage you to reach out if you are still concerned about that bear. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with the current condition. But again, I would really encourage you to reach out to the United States Department of Agriculture, the -- under APHIS, the animal care section.
NNAMDINancy McToldridge, we got this email from Hamid, (sp?) who says, "Does the accreditation cover pet shops, some of which are pretty large and appear more like zoos than pet stores? Does the USDA regulate them as well?" Nancy McToldridge?
MCTOLDRIDGENo, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums members are required to have conservation at the core of their mission. So you have to be actively working with conservation programs, both in your facility and in the field, to really qualify to be a member of the association.
NNAMDINicole Paquette, do you know whether the USDA regulates pet shops?
PAQUETTERetail pet shops are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act unless they sell exotic animals. And, again, if they sell reptiles only, they would not be covered. But if they sell mammals such as like the hedgehogs or wallabies or whatnot, they would have to have a USDA license.
NNAMDIWe got tweets from Erica, who says "My favorite is the London Zoo. It's near Regent's Park. Very disappointed in the Maryland Zoo." And Kim says, "No zoos, Kojo. Went to the St. Louis Zoo in the summer. The polar bears were acting weird, banging their heads against the enclosure. Very sad." What happens when you receive a report like that that involves one of your members, Nancy McToldridge, or a complaint like that?
MCTOLDRIDGEThe commission never ignores complaints or messages from the public. We do investigations. Even if an institution is currently accredited and not due to resubmit for four more years, if there is a serious complaint, we will actually send a team in and do another visitation and investigation of it.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Constance, asking Nicole, "Did Maryland ban roadside zoos in the 1960s as far as you know?"
PAQUETTENot to my knowledge. In the mid-2000s, Maryland did pass a law prohibiting private pet ownership with some significant restrictions, and then there was a series of exemptions. So, to my knowledge, that was not prohibited in the 1960s, no.
NNAMDIHere is Anne in Montgomery County, Md. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNEHi. Yes. My name is Anne. I'm in Montgomery County. I'm a lawyer who has represented both sides of this dispute. It's just a huge issue. And just as a comment, one of the problems I see is complaint-driven system, underfunded enforcement agencies and so on. My question goes to all concerns about rescue efforts because I do represent several rescue organizations.
ANNEOne problem that we encounter with great frequency is there's not only the patchwork of state laws that goes to the interstate transport of exotic animals, be it Siberian lynx, nonhuman primates and, as the gentleman earlier reported about, the reptiles. There are some efforts in that respect, too. But my question is this. Have any of you all had on-the-ground experience with what is involved with rescue efforts in these situations? And are you aware of the incredible difficulties that we encounter in these circumstances?
NNAMDIFirst you, Nicole Paquette.
PAQUETTEWell, The Humane Society of the United States was recently actually involved in a rescue of a -- the Collins Zoo in Collins, Miss. We assisted the Department of Wildlife there in closing down the Collins Zoo and assisted them in finding placement homes for the animals at the facility. We actually --- The Humane Society of the U.S. owns and operates a sanctuary in Texas where we actually took three of the tigers and two of the wolves.
PAQUETTESo we are involved. We do also help advise other facilities when they do want to give up their animals. So we are happy to assist. Also, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries do -- they do also get involved in these efforts. There were several efforts in Ohio where the GFAS facility or association did get involved in helping to place the animals that needed homes.
NNAMDIAnything you'd like to add to that, Nancy McToldridge?
MCTOLDRIDGEYes. There are many accredited institutions who are involved in rescue efforts and many individual members who are employed at accredited institutions that are also very active in worldwide rescue efforts. Some examples are polar bears that were brought in from -- rescued from a circus in Puerto Rico now live good lives in accredited institutions. There's a very large international turtle rescue fund that is spearheaded by AZA members.
MCTOLDRIDGEAnd then individual zoos also participate with their local fish and wildlife representatives. For instance, our zoo has historically been involved in oilbird rehabilitation.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Anne. And in response to an earlier caller who wanted to know about the grizzly in Thurmont, it was in the Catoctin Zoo. And according to one of our callers, he passed away two years ago. We got an email from Linda, who said, "We've gone to the Reston Zoo several times over the years. The report of the animal cruelty charges really makes me hesitate to patronize the zoo again.
NNAMDI"The rules and regulations are only as good as enforcement. I doubt that state and federal governments have the resources for vigilant inspection and enforcement. I'm thankful for groups like The Humane Society because they can focus on issues of animal welfare." Nicole?
PAQUETTEYes. To the person who made that comment, I would encourage you. There is actually an ongoing working group, the dangerous animal working group, in Virginia. And there will be a public meeting, and it would be wonderful to participate in that meeting and express your concerns about the need for these roadside facilities to be regulated. I believe the meeting is going to be on Oct. 24.
PAQUETTEAnd currently, this working group is looking at the loopholes in the existing law. And, unfortunately, the Virginia law actually does exempt USDA facilities. It regulates a handful of species as pets. But as long as you have a USDA license and you can show that you are educational, then you are exempt from the law. And we'd -- so it would be great for more people to speak out about that, and they need to strengthen that law.
NNAMDIWell, Nancy McToldridge, ever since the Reston Zoo director was convicted, there has been a lot of sentiments expressed, like our emailer Sarah. "Some people say they don't want to continue to patronize the zoo, others say they might give it another chance. What should the public expect at a roadside zoo like this, and how can we tell if the place is well-run?
MCTOLDRIDGEIf you see AZA logo displayed at the entrance of the facility, you can be assured that you're patronizing an organization that exemplifies excellent care of its animals and all of its programs. It's -- and like Nicole said, if you do patronize a non-accredited institution and you see things that make you uncomfortable, you should bring them to the attention of the USDA because they are the regulatory body for that.
NNAMDIIn the case of the wild animals released in Ohio a year ago, authorities decided they had no choice but to kill most of the animals that were on the loose in order to protect public safety. How often do animals escape and threaten people?
PAQUETTEWell, it's uncertain if how often. I don't think I can come up with a number, but that situation has happened in numerous states. There was an incident in California where two tigers were on the loose for several weeks and were not able to be located until they happened upon a school. And so they ended up having -- obviously, they closed the school, and they shot the animals. The problem is that some of these laws that we have on the books, there is no penalty or there is no offense if these animals do escape.
PAQUETTEAnd now, what we're seeing is, as more state laws are being strengthened, there is penalties for intentional or unintentional release of these animals and ensuring that the owner is actually held accountable and pays for the costs. Every time animals escape, it's a cost to the community. Local law enforcement has to get involved, the animal control typically, other state agencies like the Department of Wildlife or the Department of Agriculture, all of them are called into action to address this emergency situation.
PAQUETTEA perfect example is what happened in Las Vegas just recently, where two chimps escaped. They broke out of their enclosure, and as a result, one of the chimps was shot. The other one was recaptured and now is living in a sanctuary in Oregon. But that really highlighted, you know, where is the gaps in state law? And thankfully, two senators from Nevada, state senators are introducing legislation to take care of this.
PAQUETTEAnd it just shows you the lack of experience that some of these individuals have and the need for stronger laws and the need for greater enforcement to protect public safety and, obviously, animal welfare.
NNAMDIAnd apparently, there are some cases in which people can be injured without animals necessarily escaping. Here is Cecilia in Prince William County, Va. Cecilia, your turn.
CECILIAGood evening -- or good afternoon. I was -- I had a question about what to do when you're in one these sort of roadside zoos and the animals are aggressive. We were -- I was with my son -- my infant son, my 6-year-old son and my husband in an area where there were donkeys, alpaca, llamas, animals like this. They got very aggressive. There was another child in there. One of the llamas got that child underfoot. One of the other animals got my son underfoot. And then my husband was bitten.
CECILIAAnd there was nobody there with any oversight. It was just free -- it was, like, just free all. And when we reported it to the office -- my son was bleeding -- they handed us some Band-Aids, and they wrote it down in a logbook. And I thought, you know, if this is how you're going to manage this place, we're not going to come back here. And, I mean, does that need to be reported outside of that and -- well, I mean, what do you...
PAQUETTEWell, I mean, I would definitely -- if it is a USDA facility -- I didn't hear which facility you were at, but if it is a USDA...
PAQUETTELeesburg Park. You would -- I would report it to the USDA first, but I also would reach out to the local animal control. I think it is important to notify the local area as well. So you could reach out to your city or county council, your animal control, and also, don't forget about reaching out to your state legislator. You know, you're represented at the state level by state senators and state representatives, and they do have oversight of their state laws. And so I would encourage you to, you know, reach out to all of those folks actually.
NNAMDICecilia, thank you very much for your call. Nancy, what are the trends in zoo operation today? Is there, well, new thinking about how best to care for exotic animals in captivity and how best to let the public view them?
MCTOLDRIDGEThe current trend is to emphasize the creation of a connection between our guests and our animals. More and more institutions are implementing programs that will enable that because you won't save what you don't love, and conservation is the primary mission of accredited zoos and aquariums. So a lot of education programs are most important. There are 170 million people a year who visit AZA-accredited institutions.
MCTOLDRIDGEThat is a tremendous tool in order to deliver these messages of stewardship and conservation and make that emotional connection between animals and the visiting public. If you were to go to any marketing professional and say, here is an opportunity to reach 170 million people a year with your message, they'd jump all over it. And I think that we are taking greater advantage of that and stressing that educational component of our operations.
NNAMDICan't end this conversation without asking about your zoo in Santa Barbara. How big is it? How does it reflect best practices in exhibiting animals?
MCTOLDRIDGEWell, we have what you would call a medium-size zoo. I have a hard time putting a tag of small, medium or large on because you can have a large budget in a small footprint, like Lincoln Park in Chicago, which is an excellent, excellent institution. We are best with our beautiful climate and our beautiful setting, and we have excellent animal welfare.
MCTOLDRIDGEAnd we have an incredible staff that cares for the animals, cares for our guests, delivers programs, and we are very involved in the AZA cooperative programs of conservation and all of the other membership-driven parts of AZA that make it such a fabulous membership organization to be a part of.
NNAMDINicole, how has The Humane Society been involved in reviewing the laws about who should be allowed to keep or exhibit exotic animals?
PAQUETTEWell, we have worked for years on looking at the existing laws and introducing and passing laws to prohibit private possession as well as possession in unaccredited facilities such as some of these smaller roadside zoos. We did help on the Ohio bill. There are also pending -- a pending bill in Pennsylvania that we are working on, which would prohibit the private possession of some of the more dangerous mammals.
PAQUETTESo, nationally, we take approach of looking at these laws and realizing that, you know, the average person cannot take care of these animals properly, and these animals do not belong in our homes. They do not belong in people's backyards or in people's basements. And if they -- if folks want to see these animals, they should not go out there and, you know, buy one at a pet -- buy one as a pet at an auction or at a pet store. There are wonderful educational programs that people can watch.
PAQUETTEThey can go to an AZA facility. There's numerous ways for folks to be educated on these animals, and there is really no ways to -- no reason for these animals to be in private hands.
NNAMDINicole Paquette, she is deputy director for program and policy with The Humane Society of the United States. Thank you for joining us, Nicole.
PAQUETTEThank you for having me.
NNAMDINancy McToldridge is director of the Santa Barbara Zoo, and she is a member of the accreditation commission of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Nancy McToldridge, thank you for joining us.
MCTOLDRIDGEThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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