The USDA, the federal agency responsible for wildlife animal safety and enclosures, tells 10 Investigates they are considering changes to their zoo enclosure height requirements.
Federal regulations from the USDA require zoos to have a 6-foot fence for primates and smaller animals including foxes and bobcats. For larger predators including lions and bears, fences must be 8 feet.
10 Investigates discovered USDA regulations don't require any certain height of fencing as long as there's a natural barrier, such as a trench surrounding the exhibit. Columbus and Cincinnati Zoos are not in violation of USDA requirements because they have trenches surrounding multiple wildlife exhibits.
A toddler walked over a three-foot fence and fell into the natural barrier at the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla exhibit May 28th. The gorilla was shot dead by zoo employees.
The Columbus Zoo & Aquarium has similar fencing setups in exhibits for lions, Amur tigers and bonobos. Wildlife groups filed petitions calling to prevent possible human contact with wild animals at zoos and similar facilities. The USDA received two petitions in 2012 and has not acted on them.
When asked if changes would remove the exemption for fence heights if a trench is present, a USDA spokesperson responded, “We are considering the revision of the Animal Welfare Act regulations to further address public contact with dangerous animals, to include addressing appropriate barriers and fencing.”
10 Investigates asked why it’s taken 4 years to consider any changes to fence requirements, the USDA responded, “There is no timeframe on this.”