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For Immediate Release: 02/22/08

(Still) Not Safe at the Zoo?

Honolulu Zoo Tiger Escape Renews Calls for Nationwide Safety Review

Washington, D.C. — After the Christmas tragedy at the San Francisco Zoo, the zoo industry rushed to reassure the American public that lightning couldn’t strike twice, that the nation’s zoos were wholesome and, above all, safe. Yesterday’s escape of a Sumatran tiger at the Honolulu Zoo has exposed the fragility of that claim.

At the end of December 2007, Sidney Quintal, director of the Honolulu Department of Environmental Services, was quoted as saying that the risk of a tiger escape at the Honolulu Zoo was “very, very minimal — if anything, nonexistent.” Honolulu Zoo (an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)) proudly proclaimed that it had reviewed its tiger enclosure security, and that it exceeded AZA recommendations. Then, on February 21, the allegedly impossible happened and a tiger escaped from the enclosure. This was apparently due to human negligence, perhaps the most common error cited in AZA animal incidents.

Born Free USA is calling once more for an urgent, independent, and detailed Federal examination of animal welfare and public safety conditions at all American zoos.

“It’s hard to say ‘we told you so’ but it is simply not possible to take the reassurances of zoos at face value and we certainly can’t risk a repeat of the Christmas tragedy at San Francisco,” said Adam Roberts, Senior Vice President of Born Free USA. “We are calling on Congress to hold hearings immediately to review the state of affairs at this nation’s zoos, with the ultimate goal of determining what specific short- and long-term steps need to be taken to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare and to prevent another harmful human/animal interaction from ever occurring again.”

Born Free USA’s requests include:

  • an immediate safety review for all facilities, private and public, holding dangerous or potentially dangerous wild animals;
  • an analysis of the Animal Welfare Act to identify specific areas where deficiencies exist in providing the highest level of care to captive exotic species including a review of suitability and enforcement of the USDA;
  • a thorough examination of the thousands of licensed animal exhibitors to determine which facilities should be closed down immediately based on substandard animal welfare conditions and/or heightened risk to human visitors.

In the past 10 years there have been dozens of incidents involving dangerous wild animals in zoos that have resulted in injury and even death to both the people and animals involved. These incidents have involved big cats, great apes, domestic and exotic species of all kinds.

Roberts concluded: “Two tiger escapes in two months? What more evidence do we need to convince state and federal authorities that nothing short of a full regulatory overhaul will do? Millions of American citizens go to the zoo believing that they are safe, that industry standards will protect them, and that these facilities can guarantee public security — and the evidence suggests they are wrong.”

Born Free USA (www.bornfreeusa.org) is a national non-profit animal welfare and conservation organization and a member of the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition (www.cwapc.org).


Zibby Wilder, Born Free USA, 916.267.7266, press@bornfreeusa.org

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