Archive: Detroit Zoological Society Opposes Further Harm to State’s Large Carnivore Act

Bill expands who can own and breed dangerous predators, lacks oversight and enforcement, adds public costs

April 12, 2018

Royal Oak 

The Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) is opposing House Bill 5778, introduced Tuesday to significantly expand who qualifies under Michigan’s Large Carnivore Act – an act originally intended to protect people and animals and support wildlife conservation.

The Large Carnivore Act (Act 274 of 2000; sponsored by former Senator Bill Bullard (R – Oakland County) was intended to allow only the five Michigan zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) to care for, conserve and breed large carnivores such as tigers, lions and bears.  It prohibits these activities by private citizens and roadside zoos or pseudo-sanctuaries.  However, a drafting error was made in the numbering of exemptions from prohibitions when the Act was filed. It remains uncorrected and technically prevents the state’s AZA-accredited zoos from doing what they are established to do and rigorously evaluated for: responsibly conserve endangered species.  The legislature has not yet corrected the law despite years of effort by AZA zoos and others.

“We have been surprised the legislature hasn’t been able to correct this within the parameters of Act 74 – that has otherwise worked so well for nearly two decades now.  We realize the current legislature is not responsible for the original typo, but they are the only ones who can correct it,” said DZS Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan.

As a result of pressure from a few legislators to break open the act, discarding the only credible evaluation and enforcement (which does not use public monies), this proposal would expand who can possess, transfer and breed large carnivores without the funding or extensive infrastructure to oversee and enforce the requirements of the Act. Robust, credible and enforceable processes for evaluating animal care and welfare, facilities, safety protocols and policies, conservation programs and more, require extremely rigorous and costly inspections by multiple highly and uniquely trained and experienced zoologists, exotic animal veterinarians and other professionals. House Bill 5778 requires that the state of Michigan bear those costs. It also proposes a review and licensing process that could lead to questions about conflict of interest and the integrity of the licensing process.

AZA has been the only legitimate accrediting body for zoos and aquariums for more than 40 years.  Its rigorous, scientifically based and publicly available standards evaluate zoos’ entire operations, including public safety, animal welfare, veterinary care, conservation, education, guest services, physical facilities, qualifications and sufficient staffing, finance and governance.  In addition to a very extensive and detailed (100+ page) written application, an intense, comprehensive, multiple-day, on-site inspection is conducted by a team of three highly trained experts (zoo directors, veterinarians and curators), followed by a review by an independent 17-member Accreditation Commission, also comprised of highly trained and experienced directors, veterinarians and curators.  AZA institutions are required to repeat the entire accreditation process every five years to assure that they are upholding the continuously evolving high standards and incorporating best practices across their operations. AZA also has dedicated accreditation staff overseeing the accreditation process, and a verifiable track record of monitoring and enforcing requirements.

“AZA zoos in Michigan responsibly care for and conserve endangered species. They also are transparent and accountable to the public.  They protect people and animals, and are conserving endangered species.  The proposed legislation does not protect people or animals, AZA does,” Kagan said.

Dozens of people have been killed, and more than a hundred injured in the U.S. since 2000 by captive large carnivores in non-accredited zoos, circuses and in private hands. Because these organizations lack transparency, there are undoubtedly many more incidents that go unreported.