Disaster Services, HSUS, Gaithersburg, MD, USA; Management, Medicine and Institutional Disaster Planning Consultants, Wildlife Conservation, Winterville, GA, USA
There are over 2000 captive wildlife facilities licensed by the USDA in the United States. Only about 200 are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) and the AZA are committed to advancing captive animal welfare. Preparation for catastrophic disasters is essential to ensuring the welfare of institutional animal dependents in the event of infrastructure collapse or national disease outbreak. Thousands of road side menageries, private wildlife sanctuaries, and undocumented personal collections of captive wildlife exist throughout the country.
The number and diversity of these institutions presents a number of animal welfare challenges. One area of animal welfare that has not received sufficient attention, even by the AZA and AAZV, is advance preparation for disasters. Consequently, an immediate need exists for collaborative efforts to plan, prepare for, and recover from a catastrophic disaster. The AAZV should be at the forefront of animal welfare planning for zoos and aquariums in disasters.
A local or regional catastrophic disaster far exceeds the emergency planning for an institutional emergency such as animal escapes, public injury, or episodic event. Disasters far exceed the capability of not only the institution, but the local or regional community. It may require weeks to months to overcome transportation interruptions, power loss, and clean water unavailability. Animal evacuation may be the only alternative to mandatory animal collection depopulation in disease outbreaks or severe environmental conditions. Animal welfare will be at risk along with that of the victimized human population, including the institutional staff.
Dealing with the unique requirements of captive wildlife is as diverse and specialized as the species involved. Specialized diets, thermoregulatory requirements, USDA regulations and public health risks posed by wildlife must be considered in any institutional catastrophic disaster plan. Triage and resource allocation based on conservation status is an essential component that uniquely resides within the professional animal conservation community. However, no institution alone has the resources to address an organizational or regional infrastructure failure.
Only within the zoologic professional community itself, do the equipment and skills exist to provide animal welfare assistance for related institutions. The relevance, requirements, and collaboration of institutions and professionals acting collaboratively, through an integrated national plan for zoos and aquariums in disasters, is the professional solution. Physical infrastructure destruction, victim staff displacement, food and supply chain disruption can affect even the most well-prepared establishment.
In addition to the physical destruction of facilities in a disaster, information storage and data retrieval can pose greater challenges. Human resource records, payroll and financial information can be lost along with animal records. Assistance by professional colleagues and sister institutions can be the best resource to resolve these data management challenges.
The Incident Command System (ICS) is used by local, state, and federal emergency management agencies when they respond to disasters. Communication and planning within the ICS structure will assist integration into existing governmental and NGO response groups in a disaster. Likewise, intra-institutional collaboration and assistance can be enhanced by communication through the same ICS management system. The ability to “speak the same language” through the ICS structure will enhance the zoologic professional ability to ensure animal welfare through the worst possible conditions. Inter-institutional wildlife veterinary collaboration is one essential operational component.
ICS is flexible enough to relate directly to zoologic and aquarium institutional needs. It can accommodate the unique concerns of any type of disaster, animal transportation requirements, staff assistance, evacuation, and other distinctive wildlife considerations. It is the nexus and means of effective communication with non-animal response professionals.
The unique skill set required for zoo, aquarium, and wildlife institutions in catastrophic disasters can only be found within the collaborative network of captive wildlife institutions and professionals. Only through an integrated national plan for zoos and aquariums in disasters can animal welfare catastrophe be mitigated.
This is an important animal welfare and institutional welfare topic that needs more attention and resources than has been devoted in the past. Zoological medicine veterinarians should lead the way, as they are often the primary advocates for animal welfare within their respective institutions. They are uniquely qualified to address the overview considerations for diet, containment, transport, capture, and medical concerns for animal welfare in catastrophic disasters.