Before You Hire Someone with Animals…


So, you’re surfing the net, looking for a something special to bring to your school, library or your child’s birthday party. Animals! How cool. What a crowd pleaser. But, there are some important things to know before you book that animal show.

Are they licensed? Anyone who displays a mammal (something with fur, even a bunny in a magic show), must be licensed by the federal government – it’s called a USDA-APHIS “Class C” Exhibitor’s License. Ask for the performer’s USDA license number to be sure they are following federal animal care standards and that they’re inspected annually by government officials. The license number should be in this format: ##-C-####. A reputable exhibitor will not be offended – they will be amazed that you care about the animal’s welfare. To confirm they are licensed, go to the USDA-APHIS list of approved exhibitors. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, you can now also access their latest federal facilty inspection report, to see if they were in violation of any Animal Welfare regulations. In addition, ask anyone with any animal (not just the furry kind), if they hold the required state, county or city permits for the animals they keep. Again, they shouldn’t hesitate to professionally answer your question. If in doubt, contact the Animal Control office in the city in which they reside, to ask if they hold any needed permits.

Are they insured? Professional animal exhibitors carry at least $1 million in business liability insurance. In today’s litigious society, you should ask for proof of insurance in order to protect yourself. Again, a reputable performer won’t hesitate to send you proof.

How are the animals handled? If you’re able, observe one of their shows. Watch carefully how they handle the animals. Is it done with care? Are the animals’ bodies fully supported? Does the handler insure that the animal can’t risk harm to themselves or to an audience member? “Tailing” a snake (dangling it by the tip of its tail), letting an animal crawl freeing on their body, or wrapping a snake around a kid’s neck, are prime examples of a performer who’s in it for “show” and “scare tactics.” This should be a major red flag.

Is there direct audience contact with the animals? Audiences love to touch, so most performers offer some form of limited or controlled touch with animals that pose little to no risk. Watch how the animal is restrained. A professional handler will restrain the animal’s head and offer a spot to touch that is far from teeth and claws. In addition, they should require use of hand sanitizer immediately after direct contact. Ask if they do this. If not, insist that they do. At Zooniversity, we do not allow contact with any animal that could incur harm, we just don’t take chances. We strongly agree with federal recommendations that there should not be direct contact with primates (lemurs, apes, monkeys – even the cute ones in clothes) or with big cats (even those tiny tiger cubs). It is our opinion that doing so is a headline waiting to happen.

What’s their training, expertise and affiliations? Anyone can buy a few animals and make a website. We field many calls from folks with a snake or two that want to know how to do this for a living. Unfortunately, these folks are out there, without licenses, without inspection, without insurance, and without the foggiest notion about animal welfare or audience safety. Ask about their education, their training, their practical experience, and their affiliation with professional zoological organizations. By doing your research upfront and asking the right questions, you can feel good about the organization you’ve selected.

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