Walking on the Wild Side

On June 8, 2012, the AVMA’s Executive Board approved two policies (one revised, one new) related to ownership or possession of wild animal species and exotic pet species.  The issues addressed are extremely complicated, and the policies were the result of in-depth, collaborative, and lengthy discussions among multiple Councils and Committees.

 An existing policy on Private Ownership of Wild Animals was revised to address Ownership or Possession of Wild Animals or Their Hybrids, as follows (it will be posted to the AVMA website after reconstruction is complete).

 Ownership or Possession of Wild Animals or Their Hybrids

The AVMA has concerns about animal welfare, husbandry, infectious diseases, public health and safety, and environmental impacts relative to ownership of wild animal species and their hybrids.

 The AVMA believes that all who own or are considering the ownership of wild animal species or their hybrids should:

  • Educate themselves about the animal husbandry, welfare, and safety requirements of the animals involved and about the risks that  the animals may pose to humans, other animals, and ecosystems; and
  •  Implement means to reduce those risks.  

 If owners or caretakers cannot ensure these aspects, the AVMA recommends prohibiting ownership or possession of wild animal species or their hybrids.

Furthermore the AVMA:

  • Supports reasonable regulations (e.g. licensing, registration, inspections) pertaining to ownership, possession, and disposition of wild animal species and their hybrids; and
  •  Expects international, federal, state, and local authorities and policymakers to provide adequate funding and other resources to ensure effective enforcement of regulations pertaining to ownership, possession, and disposition of wild animal species and their hybrids.

Definitions:

  • Hybrid:  F1 or subsequent generations of offspring generated from different subspecies, species, genera, etc.  This includes animals such as ligers (lion and tiger hybrid), wolf hybrids, and inter-subspecific crossed or generic tigers.
  •  Risk: Threats posed by these animals, which may serve as a reservoir and/or vector for transmission of infectious agents or which may otherwise cause direct or indirect harm to humans, other animals, the environment, or wild populations of the same or related species.
  •  Wild animal:  Animal species that, whether or not raised in captivity, are normally found in a wild state.  These species may be native or nonnative to the United States, may not yet have been subjected to domestication, or may be in the process of being domesticated.

 While this policy addresses ownership and possession, it does not specifically deal with the release of such animals into the environment. The recent highly publicized Zanesville, Ohio incident provides a vivid and tragic illustration of the negative consequences that can result when wild animal species are released inappropriately. The indiscriminate release of exotic pet species (certain species of small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates) presents different risks that are just as real. Frogs, for instance, seem fairly harmless; but, certain species (e.g. the American Bullfrog) can invade and disrupt ecosystems by outcompeting, displacing, or even eating existing species.  Sometimes the animal itself is not the problem, but the pathogens it carries can be.  A devastating example is Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, which is severely impacting populations of frogs, toads, and other amphibians.  Because of its severity, Bd also has economic, environmental, and social implications.  The intentional movement of amphibians by humans such as for food, the pet trade, and scientific reasons is believed to exacerbate the spread of the fungus, especially when owners release Bd-infected animals or dump Bd-contaminated water into the environment.

 Accordingly, the new policy on Release of Wild Animal Species and Exotic Pet Species provides owners and caretakers – regardless of the reasons that they have the animals or can no longer keep them – guidance to work within established legal means for appropriate disposition of their unwanted, illegal, or overstock animals without jeopardizing the welfare of the animals involved nor increasing the risks that their animals pose to people, other animals, or ecosystems. In addition, the policy establishes a more substantial platform from which the AVMA may advocate for adoption and enforcement of reasonable regulations pertaining to the owners and caregivers of these types of animals. The wording of the new policy is as follows.  It, too, will be posted on the AVMA website at a later date.

 Release of Wild Animal Species and Exotic Pet Species

The AVMA acknowledges that ownership and possession of wild animal species and exotic pet species are legally permitted and that there are laws and regulations at international, federal, state, and local levels addressing both.  The AVMA also understands that circumstances may arise in which caregivers of such animals may no longer keep them (e.g. caregivers find themselves unable to provide the care required for the animals, realize that the animals are not suitable for captivity, or discover that possession of these animals is illegal).  Caregivers who find themselves in such situations must not jeopardize the welfare of the animals involved nor increase the risks that their animals pose to people, other animals, or ecosystems.

 Therefore:

  • No wild animal species or exotic pet species, once in captivity, should be released into the environment (aquatic or terrestrial) unless specifically authorized by  the regulatory authorities with oversight; 
  • Caregivers who find themselves no longer able or authorized to keep their wild animal species or exotic pet species must work with the appropriate authorities (e.g., State, Federal, or Tribal wildlife agencies) or legally authorized and qualified organizations (e.g., wildlife sanctuaries, zoos, or aquariums that are covered by the Animal Welfare Act or that are accredited) for proper disposition; and
  • The AVMA supports the adoption and enforcement of reasonable regulations pertaining to owners and caregivers of wild animal species and exotic pet species.

 Definitions:

  • Accredited wildlife sanctuary: A facility that cares for wildlife species and that incorporates all of the following conditions:  meets or exceeds regulatory oversight standards (e.g. 50 CFR §14.252, Animal Welfare Act, relevant state and local statutes);  meets or exceeds relevant accrediting bodies’ standards of care (e. g. nutrition, veterinary medical care, and environmental enrichment); is approved by the relevant regulatory agencies and accrediting bodies with jurisdiction; and is subject to external inspection.
  • Exotic pet species:  A wide range of pet species other than domestic dogs, cats, and equids which may be native or nonnative to the United States. 
  •  Risk: Threats posed by these animals, which may serve as a reservoir and/or vector for transmission of infectious agents or which may otherwise cause direct or indirect harm to humans, other animals, the environment, or wild populations of the same or related species.
  • Wild animal:  Animal species that, whether or not raised in captivity, are normally found in a wild state; these species may be native or nonnative to the United States, may not yet have been subjected to domestication, or may be in the process of being domesticated.

2 thoughts on “Walking on the Wild Side

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