In response to Joan Candy's March 11 column, "Bill would hurt small zoos in state," Tri-State Zoo owner Bob Candy may love animals, but the days when anyone can take in tigers or other dangerous wild animals and open up a roadside zoo should be over in Maryland.
It's common sense that housing certain species with the capacity to cause death, inflict catastrophic injuries or spread deadly diseases should be left to qualified professionals, not privately-run, outdated menageries.
Legislation (SB 827/HB 1124) sponsored by Sen. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore City, and Del. Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, is making its way through the legislature in the hopes of improving the standards of care provided to dangerous wild animals, including big cats, bears and primates.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has cited Tri-State Zoo for 130 violations of the Animal Welfare Act since 2006, including citations for allowing the public to come dangerously close to three tigers and a lion, repeated failure to repair big cat cages and insufficient public safety barriers. Tri-State is maintained by volunteers who have received little to no formal training, yet this facility has more big cats than any other zoo in Maryland. Six tigers are kept in a crumbling, empty swimming pool, and the owner has stated his intentions to breed lions.
Experts with more than 80 years of combined experience who recently visited several facilities in Maryland, including Tri-State Zoo, found that these facilities failed to provide basic husbandry to many animals. They also had infrastructure in various stages of disrepair; safety risks to animals, keepers and the public; filthy, foul-smelling and unsanitary conditions; inadequate shelter; muddy enclosures; inadequate staffing; and little-to-no environmental enrichment, just to name a few of the findings.
Maryland needs to get a handle on the problems created by unaccredited zoos and, fortunately, lawmakers considering this legislation are being proactive rather than waiting for an incident like the one in Zanesville, Ohio before taking action. This proposed legislation is a modest step in the right direction.
The writer is Maryland Senior State Director for The Humane Society of the United States