Should Austin Limit Public Contact with Wild Animals in For-Profit Zoos, Aquariums?
The Animal Advisory Commission in Austin is currently grappling with proposed language in an ordinance that aims to restrict public interaction with wildlife at for-profit zoos and aquariums. The commission recently decided to form a second working group to review and potentially revise the draft language, with the intention of presenting the results to the full commission at their next meeting.
One of the main points of contention among the commissioners is whether specific accreditation should be required for these facilities. Additionally, there have been debates over how to define “wild animal” and concerns about unintended consequences for businesses like pet stores or mobile petting zoos.
The draft language, as it stands, prohibits any for-profit zoo or aquarium from allowing public interaction with wild animals unless they have accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Furthermore, it mandates that any bites or scratches from animals be reported, with the animal then quarantined for 30 days. The results of the quarantine must also be made public within three days.
Commissioner Paige Nielsen raised this issue in response to concerns brought up by citizens at the commission’s February meeting regarding public interaction with wild animals at the Austin Aquarium. Nielsen, who is a veterinarian, hadn’t visited the facility since 2018 but was alarmed to hear about the recent complaints and the expansion of the program allowing public interaction with mammals.
To address the concerns, Nielsen agreed to lead an aquarium task force to investigate the complaints. During the June 12 citizen communication, several members of the public again raised their complaints about the Austin Aquarium.
Michelle Sinnott, the director of captive animal law enforcement for the PETA Foundation, emphasized the potential safety threats and animal welfare concerns associated with direct contact encounters at the Austin Aquarium. Sinnott mentioned that a PETA investigator had gone undercover at the facility for four months in 2022, documenting instances of suffering and neglect as well as 34 incidents of animals attacking people. However, according to public records, only one of those incidents was reported to animal services.
The Austin Aquarium has faced legal issues before, like a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 10-year-old girl in 2019. They claimed that the aquarium failed to prevent a lemur from biting their daughter during a field trip. The aquarium reportedly initially stated that it couldn’t confirm the lemur’s vaccination status, resulting in the family having to pay thousands in medical expenses. Another incident occurred in May when a woman visiting the aquarium sustained injuries after a lemur jumped on her face. The aquarium assured that they were investigating the incident and cited visitor non-compliance as the cause of past incidents.
Community members have expressed concerns that incidents like these could lead to zoonotic diseases. However, not all speakers at the commission meeting agreed that the proposed ordinance was the best solution. Phil Goss, president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, voiced opposition to what he perceived as “collective punishment.” Instead, he called for targeted efforts to address specific concerns and actors. Goss also noted that the AZA-accredited facilities represent only the nation’s largest zoological institutions and disputed claims that they are inherently superior when it comes to animal care. He suggested that the ordinance’s definition could also impact pet stores and emphasized the need for clearer definitions within the language.
In conclusion, the Animal Advisory Commission in Austin is continuing to grapple with proposed language in an ordinance that aims to restrict public interaction with wildlife at for-profit zoos and aquariums. While concerns have been raised about the potential safety threats and animal welfare issues associated with such interactions, there are debates over the necessity of specific accreditation, the definition of “wild animal,” and the potential unintended consequences for businesses. The commission plans to review and potentially revise the draft language before presenting their findings at the next meeting.
1. Why does the proposed ordinance want to limit public contact with wild animals in for-profit zoos and aquariums?
– The proposed ordinance aims to address safety threats and animal welfare concerns associated with direct contact encounters. Incidents of suffering and neglect have been reported, as well as instances of animals attacking people.
2. What would the draft language of the ordinance require?
– The draft language prohibits public interaction with wild animals at for-profit zoos and aquariums without accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. It also mandates reporting of any animal bites or scratches, quarantine of the animal for 30 days, and public disclosure of the quarantine results within three days.
3. Are all speakers in favor of the proposed ordinance?
– No, there are differing opinions. Some speakers argue against what they perceive as “collective punishment” and advocate for targeted efforts to address specific concerns and actors. They also express concerns about the potential impact on businesses such as pet stores.
4. What concerns have been raised regarding zoonotic diseases?
– Community members are worried that incidents involving public contact with wild animals could lead to the spread of zoonotic diseases, which are infections that can pass between humans and animals.
5. What are the concerns regarding the definition of “wild animal” in the ordinance?
– Some speakers, like Phil Goss, president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, have pointed out that the definition could potentially impact pet stores and create confusion. They stress the need for clearer definitions within the language of the ordinance.