By Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Three Maryland roadside zoos are objecting to a bill in the General Assembly that could bar them from obtaining new big cats, bears and primates.

The zoos in Thurmont, Cumberland and Rising Sun say House Bill 1124 threatens their existence. It would prohibit certain zoos from expanding their collections of such animals. Targeted zoos also would be barred from replacing such animals if the zoo has been cited in the past three years for certain federal Animal Welfare Act violations, or has had such an animal escape or hurt someone during that period.

Zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums would be exempt from the restrictions. The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and the Salisbury Zoological Park in Salisbury have such accreditation. To receive it, zoos must meet the trade group’s standards for business practices as well as animal care.

At a House Environmental Matters Committee hearing Wednesday, the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont asked bill sponsor Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, to also exempt zoos accredited by the smaller Zoological Association of America. Catoctin is accredited by that group. The other two roadside zoos aren’t accredited by either trade group.

The Humane Society of the United States called the Zoological Association of America “a fringe group with weak standards” in a December report critical of the three roadside zoos. The report listed scores of alleged Animal Welfare Act violations since 2006 at the Catoctin Zoo, the Plumpton Park Zoological Gardens in Rising Sun and the Tri-State Zoological Park in Cumberland.

The Zoological Association of America says it promotes responsible animal care and zoo management.

Bob Candy, owner of the Tri-State Zoo in Cumberland, said Thursday that he’s considering seeking accreditation from the Zoological Association of America.

“It’d be nice if all three zoos were on the same page” so they can jointly address public-policy issues, he said.

Plumpton Park Zoo officials didn’t immediately respond Thursday to queries from The Associated Press. Spokesman Nicholas Lacovara said in December that his zoo has considered joining the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but doesn’t want to be forced into it.

“I hate to think we’d be put out of existence because we don’t belong to a particular organization,” he said.

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