Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2022

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Public Policy Leadership

First Advisor

Melissa Bass

Second Advisor

Jody Holland

Third Advisor

Zachary Vereb

Relational Format



Since 1966, the Animal Welfare Act has been the official federal legislation passed to provide care standards and regulations for publicly exhibited animals, specifically exotic animals within zoos; however, in an age of major advocacy for improved animal welfare standards for all animals, the AWA has remained fairly stagnant in its guidelines for animal exhibitors. Through numerous articles, documentaries, and TV shows, specific zoos and animal exhibitors have shown many Americans that there seems to be little to no governmental oversight over zoos that have engaged in poor animal care or those engaging in often dangerous and cruel animal contact and breeding programs. This study seeks to understand the various organizations and acts governing zoos and the ways that they each impact animal care in order to offer potential policy solutions to improve the level of care and oversight in zoos. To accomplish this, I conducted a comparative analysis of USDA, AZA, and ZAA licensing/accreditation qualifications, their inspection protocols, and their care standards for zoo animals, and then five semi-structured interviews of zoo staff from across the US. The comparative analysis shows that the USDA’s standards and protocols are significantly less as compared to the accreditation organizations’ standards. As a result of the interviews, I found that many within the zoo industry believe that the AWA prevents outright cruelty towards animals but its welfare standards are minimal. As a potential policy solution I propose passing new legislation specifically for exhibitors and their animals with improved care standards along with placing sole licensing and enforcement of protective animal legislation under the Department of the Interior. Improving care and licensing standards along with oversight measures in America’s zoos is key to ensuring that respect and care for wildlife is a priority within the US government and the zoo industry as a whole.



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