The Role of the Attending Veterinarian and Adequate Veterinary Care in Zoos and Aquariums
Every zoo and aquarium in the United States of America is required by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to have an attending veterinarian who shall provide adequate veterinary care to its animals.3 The institution must assure that the attending veterinarian has appropriate authority to provide for adequate veterinary care, and to oversee the adequacy of other aspects of animal care and use. A mechanism of direct and frequent communication is required so that timely and accurate information on problems and animal health, behavior and wellbeing is conveyed to the attending veterinarian. The American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) Guidelines for Zoo and Aquarium Veterinary Medical Programs and Veterinary Hospitals provides further direction to the attending veterinarian and were written to conform to the requirements of the AWA.1 The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ 2006 Accreditation Guide and Standards affirm the role of the attending veterinarian by stating that an institution should adopt these AAZV guidelines.2
When the role and authority of the attending veterinarian are compromised there may be legal and animal welfare ramifications. Animal wellbeing could be harmed if deficiencies occur in husbandry and medical care. The institution could receive monetary fines and potentially lose its exhibitor’s license. In addition, implications for an institution’s reputation and credibility in its community and profession are at stake.
To ensure compliance with the Animal Welfare Act and to provide adequate veterinary care in zoos and aquariums the following measures are recommended:
1. Train animal care staff on the requirements of the AWA.
2. Clearly define, within their job descriptions, the responsibilities of keepers, curators, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and other key administrative personnel on the subjects of animal welfare and animal care. Identify who has the final authority in making animal welfare decisions.
3. Establish a written protocol for the communication of animal health and wellbeing concerns directly to the attending veterinarian.
4. Follow a program of adequate veterinary care based on the AAZV Guidelines for Zoo and Aquarium Veterinary Medical Programs and Veterinary Hospitals and the Animal Welfare Act.
5. Assure that the United States Department of Agriculture inspectors, attending veterinarian, curators, and keepers work in an open and collaborative manner on animal welfare issues.
6. The attending veterinarian reports directly to the institution’s executive director.
7. Institutions should develop their own internal animal welfare review process describing its philosophy about animal welfare and articulating a clear process for the staff to be able to express any animal welfare concerns.
8. Follow the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Standardized Animal Care Guidelines.
9. Develop an ombudsman panel jointly between the AZA and AAZV to assist the attending veterinarian, curators, and executive director in resolving animal welfare conflicts that cannot be resolved internally.
10. Amend the Animal Welfare Act to require the designation of an Institutional Official for “Licensed Exhibitors” as is required under the AWA rules for Biomedical Research Institutions.
Animal care staff working cooperatively, respecting each other’s roles, and discussing welfare concerns openly and honestly will help assure the wellbeing of the institution’s animal collection.
1. American Association of Zoo Veterinarians. Veterinary Standards Committee. 1998. Guidelines for Zoo and Aquarium Veterinary Medical Programs and Veterinary Hospitals.
2. American Zoo and Aquarium Association. 2006. Accreditation Guide and Standards.
3. United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. 2002. Animal Welfare Act and Regulations (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, Chapter 1, Subchapter A: Animal Welfare).