Regulatory Brief

 APHIS Seeks Comments Regarding Petition to Amend Animal Welfare Act Regulations to Prohibit Public Contact with Big Cats, Bears, and Nonhuman Primates (August 5, 2013)

​​Formal Title: Docket No. APHIS-2012-0107; Petition to Amend Animal Welfare Act Regulations to Prohibit Public Contact with Big Cats, Bears, and Nonhuman Primates (August 5, 2013)

Brief Description:

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is has received a petition requesting amendments to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations and standards, including to prohibit licensees from allowing individuals, with certain exceptions, from coming into direct or physical contact with big cats, bears, or nonhuman primates of any age, to define the term ``sufficient distance,'' and to prohibit the public handling of young or immature big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates and the separation of such animals from their dams before the species-typical age of weaning absent medical necessity.  The agency is making this petition available to the public and soliciting comments regarding the petition and any additional issues we should take into account as we consider this petition.

Excerpts from AVMA Response:

In response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) solicitation for comments regarding the “Petition to Amend Animal Welfare Act Regulations to Prohibit Public Contact with Big Cats, Bears, and Nonhuman Primates” (Federal Register Docket No. APHIS-2012-0107), I am sharing that the AVMA has concerns about animal welfare, husbandry, infectious diseases, public health and safety, and environmental impacts relative to ownership of wild animal species and their hybrids, such as the big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates mentioned in the petition.

Regarding the specific questions asked by USDA APHIS in the Federal Register Notice, the AVMA offers the following.

• Are there circumstances under which public contact with young big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates may be done without risk of harm to the animals or to the public?

No.  Direct contact or handling of young big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates by the general public poses health and safety risks for the animals and the public.  Such contact may facilitate zoonotic and reverse zoonotic pathogen and parasite transmission, result in physical injury to the involved humans or animals, provide opportunity for animal escape, and increase habituation of the animals being handled.  While observing animals from a relatively close distance may lessen the risks, the mental triggers and physical abilities of the respective animal to overcome the distance, obstacles, and restraint measures to reach the public as well as the public’s potential to misunderstand or not comply with the rules of observation must be considered and prepared for to the extent possible.  Environmental and physical barriers that truly preclude direct contact between the general public and the big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates seems to be safer for all; however, habituation of the animals to humans may continue to be a problem, especially for sanctuary animals that are being rehabilitated for potential release back into the wild.  Indirect observation through cameras and monitors may be the safest means for the general public to observe these animals.  As stated previously, activities that substantially compromise animal welfare should be prohibited. Such activities include handling and contact by the general public of animals that are ill, of unknown health status, or that are of a vulnerable age such as neonatal to juvenile non-human primates and nondomestic Carnivora, such as those mentioned in the petition

• Should exhibitors and dealers be required to identify big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates by means of tattoos, microchips, retinal scans, or the like?

Yes, exhibitors and dealers should be required to ensure that each of their captive big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates is individually identified.  Electronic identification is ideal in this situation because scanners can detect and read the identifier without requiring direct handling of the animals; thus, risks to the animals, caretakers, and inspectors would be reduced in comparison to tattoos or retinal scans.  Such electronic identification could more easily facilitate disease traceability, veterinary care, proof of ownership and pedigree, compliance, and other aspects involved in possessing such wildlife species.

Background Documents:

Related AVMA Policies: