State Rep. Thomas Albert’s plan establishing strong standards for the breeding of large carnivores in Michigan was approved this week in the Michigan House.
Albert, of Lowell, said the legislation promotes conservation while making the safety of zoo visitors and animals a top priority.
“Breeding programs play a critical role in the education and conservation efforts of our zoos,” Albert said. “The current system is broken. It prevents Michigan zoos from taking part in breeding programs essential for the survival of some species of animals that are endangered. We must move forward with this solution.”
Last year, the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids was forced to send its tigers to another state to take part in a breeding program, Albert said.
“The John Ball Zoo is a favorite attraction for many Kent County families. We even pay a millage to support it,” Albert said. “We lost two of our most treasured animals because it was illegal to breed them in Michigan.”
Albert’s plan, laid out in House Bill 5778, allows any zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) to breed large carnivores. AZA zoos go through a strict evaluation and inspection process that ensures they meet the high standards needed to operate a breeding program.
Public or private zoos not accredited by the AZA will be allowed to apply for a breeding license if they meet specific criteria outlined in the legislation. Among the requirements, zoos wishing to breed large carnivores must follow responsible breeding practices, provide secure animal enclosures and habitats, establish emergency plans and have highly-trained staff.
“We establish high standards that put visitor and animal safety first, while preventing bad actors from mistreating animals and putting visitors at risk,” Albert said.
The measure also establishes a three-person board with the authority to grant a maximum of 10 breeding permits a year to non-AZA accredited zoos. The commission will consist of the state veterinarian, as well as one representative each of a public zoo and private zoo appointed by governor.
Albert worked closely with the John Ball Zoo to develop the legislation.
“We commend the House and Rep. Albert for their leadership and dedication to conservation and protecting wildlife and endangered species,” John Ball Zoo CEO Peter D’Arienzo said this week. “The John Ball Zoo is proud to be accredited by the AZA and we are committed to these high standards to ensure our animals receive the quality care they need. This framework is modeled on best practices by the AZA and will allow leading zoos to have conservation breeding programs that ensure the preservation of endangered species and large carnivores.”
The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.