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Earlier this year, some of my colleagues introduced you to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and highlighted some major elements of accreditation standards that distinguish AZA facilities from “roadside” animal attractions. In addition to the welfare standards and conservation missions discussed previously, I want to highlight another critical aspect of AZA accreditation standards: compliance with all relevant local, state/provincial, and federal laws and/or regulations, including those specific to wildlife. When I say this is a critical aspect of accreditation, I mean it is literally standard number 1.1.1 (you can see the full 119-page document here). 

Complying with laws and regulations concerning wildlife is much easier said than done. It requires a significant investment of time to research and interpret regulations, and resources to comply with them. Unlike many roadside attractions, AZA facilities typically have at least one position focused on these important administrative processes. There are also professional networks that share resources to help member facilities navigate the alphabet soup of federal agencies more efficiently. 

Below are some of the federal agencies that regulate activities such as importing, transporting, housing, breeding, releasing, exporting, and providing veterinary care to wildlife. As we briefly review them, let’s see how many acronyms we encounter! 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and enforces laws related to farming, agriculture, forestry and food. The Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is the specific agency of the USDA responsible for protecting animal health, animal welfare, and plant health through regulations such as the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and the Animal Health Protection Act (AHPA), among many others. 

The U.S. Department of the Interior (USDI) is responsible for the management and conservation of most federal lands and natural resources. The Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is the agency under the UDSI that is dedicated to the management of fish, wildlife, and natural habitats. They monitor compliance with regulations such as the Lacey Act (the first federal law protecting wildlife), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the Wild Bird Conservation Act (WBCA), and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. They also implement CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), and international agreement between governments to ensure international trade does not threaten the survival of species. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce, which is concerned with promoting economic growth, may seem like a surprising piece of the puzzle, but they house the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This scientific agency focuses on the conditions of the oceans and the atmosphere. They oversee the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is responsible for the stewardship of national marine resources and implements the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). 

Lastly, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) works to protect the health of all Americans. As we learned from last year’s focus on One Health, the health of people, wildlife, and the environment are highly interconnected. That’s why the Center for Disease Control (CDC) administers the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), which regulates importation and interstate travel of some species to prevent the spread of diseases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also protects public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, quality, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines, medical devices, dietary supplements, and more. This includes the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), which regulates products for human use, including antivenom. 

Wow, I don’t know about you, but my brain hurts just from listing all of these agencies and their regulations. I counted at least 16 acronyms! And this is only the federal level. It doesn’t even include our more local conservation partners like the Georgia Department of National Resources. 

When I started learning more about the multitude of wildlife regulations, I grew even more impressed by the ability of AZA facilities to not only keep track of all of them but comply with them on an ongoing basis. Without even delving into the breadth of activities monitored by the laws mentioned above, you can safely assume that someone like Joe Exotic wasn’t adhering to them. Each one represents another example of how AZA facilities go the extra mile to ensure every aspect of our operations is benefiting wildlife and wild places. 

Sarah Hamilton
Interpretation Specialist

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl