Welfare Considerations During Coordination of Multi-Organizational Field Confiscations of Large Carnivores and Exotic Animals
Wm. Kirk Suedmeyer, DVM, DACZM
The Kansas City Zoo considers itself a community resource and lends its expertise to area endeavors. In particular, the zoo has recently participated in three separate confiscations involving 10 carnivores, including a Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), mountain lions (Felis concolor), a black bear (Ursus americanus), lynx (Lynx canadensis), bobcats (Lynx rufus), and a serval (Leptailurus serval). Additional confiscations involved a chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and a Bennett’s wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) all housed in either substandard or inhumane facilities.
Coordination and planning involved human organizations, sanctuaries, local and state regulatory officials, and media representatives. Animals were either netted, manually restrained, or immobilized. Health assessments, performed on all animals, included physical exam, ophthalmic exam and tonometry, indirect oscillometric blood pressures, thermography, pulse oximetry, complete blood counts, select sera chemistries, viral and bacterial serology, and rectal swabs for enteric flora identification and sensitivities. In addition, vaccination, prophylactic deworming, microchip identification, letters of veterinary transport, health certificates, and regulatory statements were provided.
Unique challenges are presented when attempting to immobilize animals that have been recently fed, inadequately housed, and have questionable health histories. Proper planning for inclement weather will influence success of the immobilization, because it impacts both personnel and animal comfort.
The legal aspects to be aware of and address include who owns the animal and takes responsibility for actions of the zoo/participants, approval to participate in and transfer of exotic animals across state lines, permission and support of the institution, safety of personnel and private individuals, firearms usage, veterinary instruction for postoperative care and conveyance of health status of individual animals. The state veterinarian and local regulatory officials are key contacts for assistance in this regard. In some cases, individual owners complicate procedures; therefore, local law enforcement personnel should accompany any confiscation.
The coordination of large-scale confiscations presents significant and unique logistical, political, welfare, and medical challenges for the zoo veterinarian. In these cases, institutional financial support reduced the need for compensatory funding from owners or regulatory agencies. Close communication with all parties involved is integral to success. Zoo veterinarians should be aware of the potential for involvement with confiscations and legal ramifications of participation in such procedures. Preparation and communication are key to the success and welfare of the animals.
The author thanks the participation and cooperation of state and local regulatory officials, the Humane Society of the United States, Big Cat Rescue, Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, and the staff of the Kansas City Zoo.