Tell USDA to Prohibit Contact Between Captive Wild Animals and the Public


The comment period for contacting the USDA regarding this issue is closed. Thank you for contacting USDA to show your support for prohibiting contact between captive wild animals and the public. AWI will continue to work on this issue.


Photo by Jerich Abon

Dear Humanitarian,

A young man was mauled to death by a bear in a mall pet shop. For years the public had been allowed to have their pictures taken with this bear. An 8 year-old girl was bitten by a dolphin during a public feeding program at SeaWorld in Orlando. Nevertheless, SeaWorld continues to allow this practice.

These incidents are not anomalies. Every year, animals are harmed and people are injured or killed because commercial exhibitors allow visitors to pet and pose with lions, bears, tigers, primates, and other animals who, for their own well-being and that of the public, should not be in contact with visitors. The animal protection community has long urged a change in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations governing public contact, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which is responsible for enforcing the AWA, has ignored our concerns about the dangers associated with this practice—even though the department shares many of those concerns! The hodgepodge of rules and "policies" it has put in place seems to allow public contact in some situations but not in others. There is no consistency, only confusion.

USDA has now published a petition it received requesting that it amend the regulations to clearly prohibit (1) public contact with big cats, primates, and bears, and (2) the separation of baby animals from their mothers before they are weaned unless medically necessary. The Animal Welfare Institute supports the petition; in fact, we argue that the regulatory change should go further and prohibit public contact with ALL wild and exotic animals. Many other species, including wolves, elephants, and marine mammals, are subjected to unwanted and unnecessary handling by nonprofessionals that exposes animals and visitors alike to potential harm.

What You Can Do:
Merely publishing this petition does not commit USDA to actually doing something about this problem, however. Concerned individuals like you must tell USDA to take the next step and change the regulations. Please visit the comment page to let USDA know that it should amend the AWA's regulations to prohibit public contact with all wild and exotic animals, and end the practice of removing young animals from their mothers before they are weaned unless medically required. Feel free to use the talking points provided below as a guide. Your comments may have greater impact, however, if you personalize them and include your name, city, and state. The deadline for submitting comments is October 4 November 18.
The suggested talking points are as follows:

  • Thank you for publishing the petition calling on the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to amend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations to (1) prohibit public contact with potentially dangerous animals, and (2) stop the practice of removing young animals from their mothers before they are weaned.
  • I support the regulatory changes the petition recommends but would urge USDA to go a step further by prohibiting public contact with ALL wild and exotic animals held by licensed exhibitors. Public contact with these animals puts them and visitors at risk for no good reason.
  • Moreover, allowing such contact fuels demand for young animals. This results in overbreeding, which negatively affects the welfare of breeding females and their offspring, and encourages the dumping of animals at other substandard facilities or into private hands when they are no longer useful to the exhibitor.
  • Please act quickly to amend the AWA's handling regulations to better protect animals and the public. Thank you.

Also, please be sure to share our "Dear Humanitarian" eAlert with family, friends and co-workers, and encourage them to send a message as well. As always, thank you very much for your help!


Cathy Liss

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Date Posted: 
Monday, September 23, 2013