Zoos face a unique set of risks, from the transportation and containment of animals to the prevention of zoonotic diseases. While most injuries at zoos are caused by ordinary accidents, high-profile incidents can have serious consequences, including costly litigation, damaged reputation and morale problems.
Read along as our experts review several approaches to risk management at zoos, including general health and safety, transportation of animals, addressing special events, and active shooter incidents.
Ensure Public Safety with Disease Prevention
Zoonotic diseases, which are diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans, are a serious risk at zoos. The CDC reports that 60% of known diseases are transmitted from animals, which puts attractions like petting zoos and tide pools at aquariums especially at risk.
A good risk management plan at zoos involves taking steps to prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases. This includes:
- Posting appropriate signage to remind visitors to wash their hands thoroughly and often.
- Following a disinfection protocol that involves regularly removing animal waste and cleaning high traffic surfaces.
- Identifying potential sources of infection, such as tropical houses, humidifying systems, AC systems, and hot/cold water tanks.
- Storing water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent Legionella.
- Legionella is a bacterium that can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a serious respiratory illness. Legionella is often found in water systems, and it can be spread through mist or vapor. Zoos that have tropical houses, humidifying systems, AC systems or hot/cold water tanks are at risk of Legionella infection.
Zoonotic diseases are a serious threat to public health, and zoos have a responsibility to take steps to prevent their spread. By taking steps to protect the health of their visitors and animals, they can also help to protect the public at large.
Learn more: Livestock Disease Prevention at Fairs
Maintain the Safety of Both Animals and Visitors
Animal enclosures are a critical part of any zoo. They provide the animals with a safe and secure environment and also allow visitors to have a safe view. Recently, zoo owners and operators have moved away from cages and pens to open habitat spaces that are more inclusive to the public.
However, this change in design does not mean zoos can be less careful about safety. In fact, they need to be even more vigilant to ensure the safety of both animals and visitors.
Here are a few tips on how to mitigate risks with animal containment and enclosures:
- Routinely inspecting railings, doors and ballistic windows for damage.
- Repair or remove potential hazards, such as loose rocks or exposed wires.
- Inspect walkways for damage or debris and make sure they are properly lit.
- Design enclosures with escape-proof features. This includes features such as high walls, deep moats and secure doors.
- Staff should be trained on how to safely interact with animals and how to recognize any signs of distress.
- Train staff on how to properly use and maintain equipment, such as feeding equipment and enrichment devices.
Besides physical safety, zoos must also consider the psychological well-being of their animals. They need to have enough space to roam and explore, while also feeling secure in their environment. Zoos should design enclosures that meet the specific needs of each animal species.
Take Animal Transportation Seriously
Animal transportation is a complex and risky undertaking, and zoos must take steps to ensure the safety of their animals, which should include the following factors:
- Animal species and size
- Route of transportation and required special equipment
- Extreme temperatures or weather conditions
- Potential hazards that could occur during transportation
- If the animal could become agitated during transportation or escape from its transport container
- If the animal could be injured during transportation or contract a disease from another animal
Before transporting an animal, it is essential to check with your state and local laws to ensure you are in compliance. There may be specific regulations governing the transportation of certain species of animals or the transportation of animals over certain distances. You may also need to obtain permits or licenses before transporting an animal.
It is also important to be aware of the federal regulations governing the transportation of animals. These regulations are set forth in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The AWA sets forth minimum standards for the care and handling of animals during transportation, and it also requires animals be transported in a manner that minimizes stress and discomfort.
Protect Your Zoo and Visitors During Special Events
Special events at zoos are a great way to raise money and awareness for the zoo, and they can also be a lot of fun for visitors. However, zoos must adhere to strict safety guidelines to protect their visitors, staff and animals.
These guidelines cover a wide range of topics, including:
- Zoo staff must be properly trained in animal handling and must follow strict procedures to ensure the safety of both the animals and the public.
- Enclosures must be designed to meet the needs of the animals and to prevent them from escaping.
- Animals must be provided with clean food and water at all times.
- Waste must be disposed of properly to prevent the spread of disease.
- Zoos must take steps to ensure the safety of visitors, such as providing clear signage and pathways.
- Zoos must provide training and safety equipment to their staff to protect them from injury.
It is also important to have special event insurance. This type of insurance can protect the zoo from liability in the event of an accident or injury. It can also help to cover the costs of property damage or medical expenses.
By having special event insurance, zoos can help to protect themselves from financial losses and ensure they are able to continue hosting special events in the future.
Keep Up with General Safety Training
Staff training is essential for ensuring the safety of zoo visitors, staff and animals. Zoo staff should be trained in CPR and first-aid, and they should also be trained in the latest catastrophe response techniques.
Here are some additional tips for mitigating risks::
- Train staff on how to identify and report hazards.
- Have a system in place for incident reporting and investigation.
- Provide regular safety training for all staff.
- Create a culture of safety within the zoo.
Zoo staff operating vehicles should also be trained and licensed. Training should include instruction on how to drive in confined spaces and how to handle animals safely. This training will help to ensure that staff are able to operate vehicles safely and efficiently. It is also important to have a system in place for regularly inspecting and maintaining zoo vehicles.
Stay Prepared with a Clear Active Shooter Plan
Zoos are open spaces, making them a potential target for active shooters. The FBI estimates 46% of active shooter incidents occur in open settings. That is why it is critical for zoos to have a comprehensive active shooter response plan in place.
These are key elements of an effective active shooter response plan for zoos:
- Identify safe zones within the zoo where visitors and staff can go to escape an active shooter. These safe zones should be well-protected and easy to access.
- Include a clear communication strategy for communicating with visitors and staff during an active shooter incident. This strategy should include a way to notify people of the incident, as well as instructions on how to stay safe.
- Train staff on how to identify and respond to an active shooter incident. This training should be regularly updated to reflect the latest best practices.
A well-thought-out plan will help to ensure the safety of visitors, staff and animals in the event of an active shooter incident.
Manage Risks and Unleash Peace of Mind with Premier Zoo Insurance
McGowan Allied Specialty Insurance has been supporting zoos with comprehensive insurance solutions for more than 40 years. Whether you are a non-profit zoo or a small petting zoo, we have the expertise to create a policy and risk management plan tailored to your unique needs.