Practitioner's Guide to Wildlife Regulation and Law
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2011
Peregrine L. Wolff, DVM
Nevada Department of Wildlife, Reno, NV, USA

Veterinary practitioners are familiar with local, state and federal regulations applicable to domestic species; however they may be uninformed of similar laws governing wildlife. With shrinking habitat the number of human-wildlife interactions will grow and veterinarians will increasingly be presented with injured or orphaned wildlife. Even when working with a licensed and reputable wildlife rehabilitator, the burden is on the veterinarian to become familiar with the pertinent regulations and laws and to insure that they and their staff are in compliance. This manuscript will review some of the common laws that apply to wildlife, areas where veterinarians may be held liable and provide links to resources concerning wildlife laws and regulations

Which Agency Does What

State Agencies

State Fish and Wildlife agencies are tasked with the authority to manage the wildlife resources for the public. It may be confusing to try and locate these agencies as the names of the agencies are dictated by where they fall within the state government system and often don't include the word "wildlife" in the name. For example The New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and Texas Parks and Recreation are the names of the divisions that are tasked as wildlife managers for their respective states.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) which is under the Department of the Interior (DOI) implements and enforces the Endangered Species Act (ESA), Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), and the Bald and Golden Eagle ACT (the Eagle Act). Species that fall under the ESA are managed in conjunction with the state wildlife agency. States laws concerning endangered species can be more but not less restrictive than those outlined in the ESA.

National Marine Fisheries Service

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) which is under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administers and regulates the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)

Wildlife Services

Wildlife Services which is under US Department of Agriculture /Animal Plant Health Inspection Service deals primarily with species that are involved in human -wildlife conflict (animals that cause damage to property, depredation to agriculture and livestock or potentially impact human safety). This usually involves extermination activities but may also involve repellents or population control. For example, Wildlife Services may be hired by state agriculture or wildlife departments for predator control for livestock or by airports to control birds or other wildlife around runways.

Possession and Rehabilitation Regulations

The primary management authority for native wildlife species is the state fish and game agency. Federally endangered species, migratory birds, bald and golden eagles and marine mammals are also regulated under federal laws. Additional state regulations may also apply to species that are classified as state threatened or endangered but are not federally listed. If a practitioner plans to be involved in rehabilitation or treatment of wildlife, they should familiarize themselves with the both the state and federal regulations pertaining to wildlife. There may also be laws and ordinances that impact possession of wildlife at the local (county or city) level.

State wildlife and rehabilitation regulations and laws can be found within state administrative codes which are accessible through the state fish and wildlife website. Common restrictions to the possession, treatment and release of wildlife often involve classification status of the species or disease related issues. In some states it is illegal to rehabilitate any game species, fur bearers, dangerous predators, or prohibited species. It also may be illegal to rehabilitate prohibited or nuisance animals such as non-native or regionally invasive species. Vector species of zoonotic diseases such as rabies or plague are often prohibited from possession or rehabilitation. State laws can vary widely with regards to species status. For example an animal that may be unregulated in state A may be considered a prohibited species in neighboring state B. State regulations relating to rehabilitation can undergo periodic revisions. This would involve input from stakeholders. Casey and Casey provide a comprehensive survey and review of changes to state wildlife rehabilitation regulations over a ten year period (1994–2004).1 The state Administrative Codes which address wildlife laws and regulations are linked to state wildlife agency websites which can be found in the USFWS Employee Pocket Guide at:

Federal Laws that veterinarians should be familiar with include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (Eagle Act), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Lacey Act. The basic premise of all of these laws is that without a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife agency that it is illegal to "possess" or "take" the species that are regulated under the act.

Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 USC 1531–1544)

"Except as otherwise provided in the Act, with respect to endangered species of fish or wildlife, it is unlawful to: import or export; take ("take" is defined as "to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct") within the U.S. or on the seas; possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport or ship any taken species; deliver, receive, carry, transport, shop, sell or offer to sell these species in interstate or foreign commerce; violate any regulation pertaining to a threatened or endangered fish or wildlife species."

Migratory Bird Protection Act (16 USC 703–712)

This law establishes a federal prohibition, unless permitted by regulations, to "pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention ...for the protection of migratory birds... or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird."

Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 USC 668a–d)

This law provides for the protection of the bald eagle and the golden eagle by prohibiting, except under certain specified conditions, the taking, possession and commerce of such birds.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 USC Chapter 13)

The MMPA prohibits, with certain exceptions, the take (where "take" is defined as "harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect") of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S

In general licensed veterinarians are granted a 24–48 hour grace period (under state and federal regulations) after the animal is presented, their condition is stabilized, or the animal is euthanized, in which they can possess the animal possessing the necessary state or federal permits. After this period the animal is required to be transferred to a licensed rehabilitation facility or the veterinarian needs to contact the regulating state or federal agency.

Lacey Act (16 USC 3371–3378)

"Under this law, it is unlawful to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase fish, wildlife or plants taken, possessed, transported, or sold: 1) in violation of U.S. or Indian law, or 2) in interstate or foreign commerce involving any fish, wildlife, or plants taken, possessed, or sold in violation of State or foreign law. The law covers all fish and wildlife and their parts or products, and plants protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and those protected by State law. Commercial guiding and outfitting are considered to be a sale under the provisions of the Act."

The Lacey Act could be violated if an animal is picked up in state A and transported to a veterinarian in state B. Both states may have regulations prohibiting the transport of this particular species across state lines.

The Language of the ESA, Eagle Act, MBTA and Lacey Act can be accessed at: (VIN editor note: link updated 11/13/15) or (VIN editor note: link updated 11/13/15). The full Marine Mammal Protection Act can be accessed at on the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources Website:

The primary federal wildlife regulation that will impact most veterinarians working with wildlife is the Migratory Bird Act. As outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations -CFR 50: Wildlife and Fisheries, Part 21: Migratory Bird Permits; Subpart B General Requirements and Exceptions, § 21.12: General exceptions to permit requirements, allows veterinarians to provide veterinary care to migratory birds as described:

(c) Licensed veterinarians: Licensed veterinarians are not required to obtain a Federal migratory bird permit to temporarily possess, stabilize, or euthanize sick and injured migratory birds. However, a veterinarian without a migratory bird rehabilitation permit must transfer any such bird to a federally permitted migratory bird rehabilitator within 24 hours after the bird's condition is stabilized, unless the bird is euthanized. If a veterinarian is unable to locate a permitted rehabilitator within that time, the veterinarian must contact his or her Regional Migratory Bird Permit Office for assistance in locating a permitted migratory bird rehabilitator and/or to obtain authorization to continue to hold the bird. In addition, veterinarians must:

(1) Notify the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ecological Services Office immediately upon receiving a threatened or endangered migratory bird species. Contact information for Ecological Services offices can be located on the Internet at;

(2) Euthanize migratory birds as required by §21.31(e)(4)(iii) and §21.31(e)(4)(iv), and dispose of dead migratory birds in accordance with §21.31(e)(4)(vi); and

(3) Keep records for 5 years of all migratory birds that die while in their care, including those they euthanize. The records must include: the species of bird, the type of injury, the date of acquisition, the date of death, and whether the bird was euthanized.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) text for the above Migratory Bird Permits can be accessed through the following website: (VIN editor note: link updated 11/13/15).

Administration of Pharmaceutical Agents to Wildlife Species

The use and administration of pharmaceutical agents in animals is under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (CFR 21 USC 360). Since few drugs are approved for use in free-ranging wildlife the practitioner should also be familiar with the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA) of 1994 (CFR 21, Chapter 1, Part 530) in-which the FDA defines the parameters for extra-label administration of pharmaceutical agents to animals. Under AMDUCA, wildlife species for which there is a defined take season (i.e., hunting season) are defined as food animals and clinicians should be familiar with the specific requirements defined in AMDUCA including: 1) requirement of a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship, 2) well defined record keeping, 3) establishment of meat withdrawal times for food-producing animals receiving pharmaceuticals, 4) identification of animals receiving pharmaceuticals.

Most large game species have set hunting or trapping seasons, however many abundant small mammal species may have open hunting seasons. State wildlife agencies will commonly tag large game species (deer, moose, elk, bear) that have received immobilizing agents or other pharmaceuticals with an ear tag which lists a number to call prior to consumption of the animal. Before administering pharmaceutical agents to wildlife or dispensing such agents to wildlife rehabilitators or other individuals that may be handling wildlife, it is the veterinarian's responsibility to insure that the drug withdrawal time will be met prior to the release of this species.

Since many new antibiotics are labeled for one time administration they are ideally suited for use in wildlife. Withdrawal times are established for use in domestic species however there is essentially no established meat withdrawal times in wildlife. Clinicians should consult the Food Animal Residue and Depletion Program (FARAD) for recommended withdrawal times. State and federal rehabilitation regulations generally allow possession of an animal to provide rehabilitative care for up to 180 days (however some may be as little as 30–60 days) and the goal is for the least amount of time in captivity. The withdrawal times recommended by FARAD for penicillin is 21 days and for the long acting Ceftiofur preparation Excede® (Pfizer Animal Health, New York, NY, USA) it is 90 days. Although Excede® may be the preferred drug to use the lengthy withdrawal time may preclude its use.

The CFR text for AMDUCA can be accessed through the following website: (VIN editor note: link updated 11/13/15).

The FARAD website can be accessed at:

Carcass Disposal Issues

Secondary pentobarbital poisoning of improperly disposed of carcasses of domestic animals or wildlife has been well documented. At risk are scavengers including birds (bald and golden eagles, corvids [jays, magpies, crows and ravens], gulls, and vultures) and mammals. Almost all potential scavengers with perhaps the exception of coyotes are protected under either federal (MBTA, the Eagle Act and the ESA) or state wildlife regulations. Veterinarians and livestock owners have been fined under these federal regulations for the involuntary killing of eagles.

 Link to USFWS fact sheet on Secondary Pentobarbital Poisoning of Wildlife:

 AVMA disposal website (covering state and federal regulations on animal waste and carcass disposal): (VIN editor note: link updated 11/13/15).

The Veterinarian's Responsibility

If veterinarians choose to work with wildlife then they are responsible for upholding state, local, and federal laws that govern "possession" or "take" of wildlife. Veterinarians have been held liable for the deaths of protected species that were secondarily poisoned with pentobarbital. Also if a veterinarian has a client that they know may be breaking the law they could potentially be held liable under the law as an, Accessory after the fact (18 USC, Part 1, section 3).

"Whoever, knowing that an offense against the United States has been committed, receives, relieves, comforts or assists the offender in order to hinder or prevent his apprehension, trial or punishment, is an accessory after the fact."

Those veterinarians that work with wildlife and make a good faith effort to understand the relevant laws and regulations that govern wildlife as well as develop working relationships with their state wildlife veterinarian, game wardens and US Fish and Wildlife agents are a valuable resource to the wildlife conservation community.


1.  Casey AM, Casey SJ. A survey and study of state regulations governing wildlife rehabilitation - 2004 update: Current regulations and 10-year trends. WildAgain Rehabilitation, Inc. Evergreen, Colorado, USA ( 2005.


Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Peregrine L. Wolff, DVM
Nevada Department of Wildlife
Reno, NV, USA

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