Look, Don’t TouchPosted by Jeffrey Bramson, ALDF Guest Blogger on October 25, 2013
Dozens of facilities across the United States advertise what seems like a fun and harmless activity: allow members of the public, including children, to handle and play with exotic animals. Children can bottle-feed baby tigers, play with monkeys, and interact with baby bears. Families love it (and get great pictures), and no animals are harmed in the process, right?
Unfortunately, the public handling of these animals is detrimental to both the animals and the public. There is an increased bi-directional risk of disease transmission, and higher likelihoods of injury to children. And the massive industry that has formed around such public handling requires a constant and unsupervised cycle of over-breeding. Such conditions negatively impact carefully-designed species conservation efforts, destroy the natural behavioral connections between young mammals and their mothers, and foster stressful conditions that permanently diminish the health of the animals exposed to the public.
Given these problems, the Animal Legal Defense Fund recently supported the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in proposing an amendment to the regulations promulgated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The proposed changes would make it illegal for licensed animal exhibitors, including zoos, to allow members of the public to handle big cats, bears, and nonhuman primates.
In particular, the ALDF focused on three legal problems within the current regulatory framework. First, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), responsible for administering the AWA, has a problematic track record in enforcing existing regulations. Second, the current regulations are vague and performance-based, rather than providing bright-line rules that would allow for more efficient compliance and enforcement. Third, the over-breeding that is incentivized by the current AWA rules is so reckless that it constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
With HSUS’s petition and ALDF’s comments now submitted, the waiting period begins. Should APHIS agree to amend the AWA regulations, the public will no longer be allowed to handle big cats, bears, and primates. Some may grumble about the change, but we will all benefit from knowing that the law protects these majestic animals from the dangers posed by us, and likewise that we are protected from these beautiful but dangerous creatures.
Jeffrey Bramson is an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, a law firm in Chicago. He happily volunteers time to support the important work of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.