APHIS Initiates Rulemaking on Handling of Wild and Exotic Animals

On January 6, 2023, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) and request for comments as to potential amendments to Animal Welfare Act regulations  governing exhibitors.  The ANPR solicits public comments  on APHIS’ “plan to strengthen regulations regarding the handling of wild and exotic animals for exhibition, as well as the training of personnel involved in the handling of wild and exotic animals, and to establish standards addressing environmental enrichment for all regulated animals.”

APHIS sees interactions between wild or exotic animals owned by Class C exhibitor licensees and the public as an area of regulatory concern.  The ANPR seeks comments on the advisability of organizing exhibited animals into three categories:

Category 1 — “exotic or wild animals with the capability or potential to cause severe injury, dismemberment, or death the public or staff.”  (E.g., killer whales, bears, elephants).

Category 2 —  “exotic or wild animals with the capability or potential to cause injury to the public or staff that is serious but not likely to be server or life-threatening.  (E.g., sloths, kagaroos, beluga whales).

Category 3 — “common farm animals and ‘pocket pets’ (small exotic and domestic mammals” that are unlikely to cause serious injury to the public or staff.”  (E.g., goats, rabbits porcupines, sugar gliders).

If APHIS determines that these classifications make sense, then it is considering regulations that would set standards for four types of activities — full contact, protected contact, walk-/drive-through exhibits and performances.  The contemplated regulations would focus on activity-specific restrictions to minimize risk, training, restrictions on participation and requirements for the animal involved.  Also under consideration would be requirements that a licensee develop a written plan, approved by a veterinarian, setting out how the licensee will ensure compliance with whatever restrictions are adopted.

APHIS also is contemplating regulations regarding the training of licensees and staff who handle Category 1 an 2 animals.  Here, the agency seeks comments on what the state of training currently is in the industry as well as what interested parties believe training requirements should be.

Finally, the ANPR seeks comments on the potential requirements for species-specific enrichment for all regulated animals.  At present, the regulations only contain environmental enrichment requirements for non-human primates and marine mammals.  If the agency adopts performance standards for enrichment, it has indicated that it would require licensees and registrants to develop and implement written enrichment plans.

APHIS will consider all comments received on or before 60 days after the ANPR is published in the Federal Register.  That publication is scheduled to happen on January 9.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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