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Viewpoints: Bill would impose irrational limitations on zoos and aquariums

People across the world have always been fascinated by wild animals. Large mammals, especially, are majestic to view and study. They have fascinating social structures and cooperative abilities, and they display tremendous power and grace. The reality is that most people will never have the opportunity to see a killer whale or an elephant in the wild. The ability to see these species and learn from them at an accredited zoo or aquatic park, where caring professionals provide for their needs, is a profoundly effective way to instill care and concern for the future of these magnificent creatures.

However, Assembly Bill 2140, legislation by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, sparked by a flawed, provocative movie about killer whales, establishes a dangerous precedent in California. This bill and others that will likely come after it will have a profound effect not only on SeaWorld, but potentially on all of California’s zoos and aquariums.

As the director and CEO of the Sacramento Zoo, I am deeply concerned that this bill and future laws targeting other species in human care not succeed in imposing irrational limitations on zoos and aquariums. If legislation like this prevails, we may be unable to observe and learn directly from live animals, increase public awareness of wildlife and inspire young people.

AB 2140 ignores the fact that SeaWorld, just like the Sacramento Zoo and more than 200 zoos nationwide, is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. To be accredited, a zoo or aquarium must meet or exceed rigorous professional standards that evaluate the living environments, social groupings, health and nutrition of animals. In most cases, the association’s standards exceed the existing requirements of the state and federal agencies tasked with regulating animal welfare.

In fact, fewer than 10 percent of the approximately 2,800 animal exhibitors licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Accreditation standards also require that we provide the animals in our care with enrichment, which stimulates each animal's natural behavior and provides variety in its daily routine.

AB 2140 also ignores the research, rescue, rehabilitation and conservation contributions made by SeaWorld. If successful, AB 2140 would certainly jeopardize funding for these endeavors that benefit killer whales and other species. Zoos and aquariums enhance our understanding of animals in human care and in the wild. Studies by zoos like the Sacramento Zoo, and aquariums throughout the U.S., offer remarkable insights into land mammals, marine mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish as well as plant life.

As an institution accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, the Sacramento Zoo supports conservation projects locally and around the world – from bird conservation in Asia to giraffe monitoring in Africa. If the Sacramento Zoo were faced with similar proposed restrictions on operations and the potential for a loss of funding, it would mean the zoo would be limited in its ability to conduct important research and global animal conservation efforts.

Sacramento Zoo seeks to inspire appreciation, respect and a connection with wildlife and nature through education, recreation and conservation. Like zoos and aquariums across the U.S., we preserve wildlife, prevent disease, conserve habitat and inspire change. Management and welfare decisions should be left to these professionals and the regulatory agencies that have the best long-term interest of the species in mind. We can’t allow a sensationalistic film, rather than facts, to drive this policy discussion. In its zeal to regulate operations at SeaWorld, AB 2140 could establish a very dangerous precedent that threatens to limit our experiences at all California zoos and aquariums.

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