AZA News Releases

AZA and AAZV Letter to USDA on Emergency “Cub Petting” Petition

Silver Spring, MD (May 7, 2020) – Given concern with the transmission of COVID-19 to big cats, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a petition last week with the United States Department of Agriculture seeking an emergency ban on the practice of “cub petting” at USDA-licensed facilities. In response to the petition filing, Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Rob Hilsenroth, Executive Director of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, sent the following letter to USDA:

May 7, 2020

Dr. Betty Goldentyer                                               
Deputy Administrator                                                
USDA/APHIS/Animal Care                                       

Robert M. Gibbens, D.V.M.
Director, Animal Welfare Operations
USDA/APHIS/Animal Care

Dear Drs. Goldentyer and Gibbens:

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV) would like to express our collective support for the recent petition from PETA to USDA seeking an emergency ban on the practice of “cub petting” at USDA-licensed facilities due to transmissions concerns of COVID-19 to big cats. AZA does not support or allow direct, unprotected contact between guests and big cats. “Cub petting” is neither safe (for the animals or people) nor ethical. At AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, people see and enjoy animals living as animals, presented in a way that promotes respect, empathy, concern, and responsibility.  Similarly, AAZV and its animal health teams are taking all of the precautions suggested by animal health experts to reduce the risk of exposing the animals in our care to COVID-19.

We learn more each day about the potential transmission of COVID-19 from people to animals. We know potential transmission includes big cats, which occurred at the Bronx Zoo, where an asymptomatic animal care professional may have transmitted the virus. AZA and AAZV support this petition and we urge USDA to take the necessary steps to prevent the spread from the public to these animals.

We look forward to working with you in the coming months as we collectively work to ensure that our nation and the wildlife resources entrusted to us emerge from this crisis.


Dan Ashe
President and CEO

Rob Hilsenroth
Executive Director

A PDF copy of the AZA and AAZV letter is available for download here.

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