According to the USDA OIG Audit Report 33601-0003-23, previously available online, APHIS Animal Care (AC) had agreed that it would review barrier issues and may require reporting of escapes and attacks.  However, Audit Report 33601-0003-23, originally published on March 12, 2021, has been removed from the website, and is reportedly “undergoing a review pursuant to OIG’s Information Quality Guidelines. The report will be re-posted upon conclusion of OIG’s review.”

The requirements for exhibitors, in part, include requirements to “minimize possible harmful risks to animals and the public during public exhibition.” 9 C.F.R. § 2.131 (a)-(e). “Specifically, any animal must be handled to minimize the risk of harm to the animal and to the public, with sufficient distance and/or barriers between the animal and the general viewing public to assure the safety of animals and the public.” 9 C.F.R. § 213l (c)(l).

In 2010, OIG audited APHIS AC evaluated APHIS’ controls over the licensing of exhibitors of exotic animals and the agency’s efforts to safeguard both the animals and members of the public who visit exhibitor facilities. The audit found that

APHIS inspectors either did not identify safety-related deficiencies during inspections, or did not document the conditions and require corrective actions due to the lack of periodic onsite supervision . . . [and] recommended that APHIS issue clear regulations and guidance that define what constitutes a sufficient public barrier and require exhibitors to report all escapes and attacks involving dangerous animals to APHIS’ [animal care inspectors]. As part of Audit Report 33601-0003-23, OIG followed up on the recommendations from the June 2010 audit, with emphasis on the recommendations relating to public safety.

The recommendations and agency responses as previously published, are described, in part below.  Whether the current OIG review will result in amendments to the report will be determined upon final publication.

Recommendation 1:

Conduct a study to determine if there continues to be an issue with public barriers at licensed exhibitors with potentially dangerous animals. If the results indicate an issue, determine and implement the necessary corrective actions (i.e., new regulations, training, and/or guidance).

Agency Response to Recommendation 1:

APHIS agreed to conduct a study to determine if public barriers at licensed exhibitors create a potential hazard to people or animals.  “As part of this review, barriers will be measured for height and distance from primary enclosures and photographed; then submitted to the Animal Care species specialist team for assessment and evaluation.” Those studies will occur at the 19 facilities that OIG had included in its audit, but the identity of those facilities was not disclosed.

Recommendation 2:

Consult with the Office of General Counsel (OGC) to determine if APHIS has the authority under the AWA to require exhibitors to report animal escapes and/or attacks to APHIS. If APHIS does have the necessary authority, take action to ensure exhibitors report animal escapes and/or attacks to APHIS.

Agency Response to Recommendation 2:

The agency agreed to consult with the OGC and based on the legal determination of its authority, would promulgate regulations or provide guidance to stakeholders of its requirements to require certain reporting.

The remaining recommendations related to the agency’s internal procedures and frequency of inspection of licensed exhibitors.

More to come when the report is republished.