In-Depth: Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) reintroduced this bill to ensure that zoos, commercial animal dealers, and research facilities have contingency plans in place to safely evacuate and care for their animals in the case of emergencies or disasters:
“The lives of animals are too precious to leave to chance. This bipartisan bill will ensure that zoos, commercial breeders, research facilities, and the like are prepared to keep their animals safe when disaster strikes. Sadly, we’ve learned that if these entities do not have a plan in place when an emergency hits, it is already too late. I’m grateful for the support of Representative King and the many animal advocacy organizations that are helping advance this important legislation.”
The Animal Wellness Foundation is one of a number of animal welfare organizations that supports this bill. Its Director of Federal Affairs, Holly Gann, says requiring labs, zoos, and other USDA-regulated facilities to have contingency plans for their animals is “common sense":
“Disasters don't discriminate, and they threaten people and animals. It's just common sense, and common decency, that commercial operations – such as commercial dog breeders and animal circuses – should have plans in place to ensure the safety of the animals in their care.”
Julia Barnes, director of animal care and health at the Santa Barbara Zoo, notes that emergency and disaster preparedness for zoos has been “a very hot topic” over the past five years. She observes, “Earthquake is always a risk, so that’s been talked about forever. But with climate change, we are seeing these extreme weather events, and we’re feeling the effects of them.”
This bill has 54 bipartisan cosponsors, including 50 Democrats and four Republicans, in the 116th Congress. Prior to this Congress, this bill’s previous title was the “Animal Emergency Planning Act.” Rep. Titus first introduced this bill in the 113th Congress in 2014 with the support of five Democratic cosponsors. At that time, this bill didn’t receive a committee vote. In the 114th Congress, Rep. Titus reintroduced this bill with the support of 31 bipartisan cosponsors, including 26 Democrats and five Republicans, and it again didn’t receive a committee vote. Most recently, Rep. Titus reintroduced this bill in the 115th Congress with the support of 51 bipartisan cosponsors, including 44 Democrats and seven Republicans, and it again didn’t receive a committee vote.
This bill has the support of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Wellness Foundation, Best Friends Animal Society, and the Humane Society.
Of Note: When natural disasters strike, zoo animals are particularly vulnerable to being hurt, as they’re in enclosures that are designed to prevent them from escaping. When these animals escape their enclosures during disasters, they can also pose a public health risk, as many zoo animals are wild, powerful creatures. Natural disasters can also pose an indirect threat to zoo animals’ survival, as some of them rely on fresh shipments of food to survive, and others need electricity and running water.
With these risks in mind, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) requires all the animal care facilities it represents to practice an annual disaster preparedness drill in order to stay accredited and prepared. The AZA requires its accredited members to have written procedures for responding to fire, injury of visitors or staff, animal escape, and environmental emergencies specific to their region (i.e., earthquakes). However, not all zoos are AZA-accredited, and there’s little oversight of emergency response plans for non-AZA zoos.
The USDA backs an emergency-preparedness program for zoos and aquariums called the ZAHP Fusion Center. The Center helps professional animal handlers prepare for catastrophe. In December 2012, the USDA amended the Animal Welfare Act regulations to require zoos, as well as other organizations that exhibit animals, to conduct “contingency planning” and “training of personnel.” DJ Shubert, a wildlife biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute, argues that this is “grossly inadequate,” as facilities aren’t required to submit their plans for review, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service isn’t required to evaluate how well zoos’ plans worked after disasters. Thus, Shubert says, the reality is that “anything goes.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Khlongwangchao)