USDA aims to strengthen handling regulations for exotic animals in exhibition


Requesting public comments on standards for handling captive exotic animals

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The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is requesting public comments for changes on the standards for handling captive wild and exotic animals. The organization is requesting comments for strengthening environmental enrichment for all regulated species as well.

According to an organizational release,1 APHIS is asking for comments in these 3 areas:

  • Public handling of wild and exotic animals at licensed exhibitors
  • Training of personnel who handle wild and exotic animals at licensed facilities
  • Changes to all regulated animals’ environments to promote their psychological well-being

The public may submit comments at and all comments must be received by March 10, 2023. APHIS will carefully review and consider all comments before developing a proposed rule.

“Wild and exotic animals may endanger themselves, their handlers, and the public when they are in direct contact with people,” Betty Goldentyer, DVM, deputy administrator of APHIS’ Animal Care Program, said in the release. “With public feedback, we are working to strengthen our current standards and better protect animal welfare and public safety.”1

The changes being considered from the public would aim to ensure all animals are covered under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) with the humane handling and treatment of exhibited animals. The AWA sets basic standards for humane care and treatment for certain animal species that are used in exhibition or research.2

According to an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) article,2 there are currently 1,970 active class C licenses for exhibitors. Roughly 70 to 145 new licenses have been approved each year since 2019. Under the current federal regulations, licensees who maintain wild or exotic animals must demonstrate adequate experience with and knowledge of the species they maintain.

According to the AVMA, “In light of the concerns regarding interactions between wild or exotic animals and the public, the lack of specificity regarding the requirement to demonstrate ‘adequate experience and knowledge’ in the species being maintained, and the lack of requirements for environmental enrichment of all regulated animals, APHIS is contemplating amendments to the regulations.”2


  1. USDA seeks comment on plan to strengthen regulations for handling wild and exotic animals for exhibition; environmental enrichment requirements. News release. US Department of Agriculture. Published January 6, 2023. Accessed February 15, 2023.
  2. Lederhouse C. USDA proposed rulemaking to strengthen regulations for handling wild, exotic animals. American Veterinary Medical Association. Published February 14, 2023. Accessed February 15, 2023.
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