Caring For Trafficked and Seized Animals: A Multi-Aquarium Effort!

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intercepts a shipment of marine animals without proper paperwork, who do they turn to for help? Sometimes, it’s the National Aquarium.

Published September 11, 2019

The pet trade is a billion-dollar industry, moving millions of animals each year, including exotic marine life. While many pet trade companies are above board, plenty of others are not, and as a result, many endangered and threatened species are put at risk. The sheer numbers involved mean sometimes animals are deliberately smuggled into the United States. 

Seized nudibranch.

These illegal shipments are often intercepted at airports, ports, and borders by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which then reaches out to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums in the area to assist with the care and keeping of these seized animals. The National Aquarium is one such; we’re contacted a few times each year to assist with the holding of exotic animals.

What determines where a seized marine animal goes? Usually, it comes down to whichever aquarium is closest and has the space, expertise, budget, and facilities to help that specific animal!

Our Animal Care and Rescue Center makes us an excellent candidate to care for many types of animals, including birds, freshwater and saltwater fish, and invertebrates.

Once they arrive in Baltimore, seized animals are treated to a careful medical exam and placed in appropriate housing in our Animal Care and Rescue Center, where they will receive expert care while awaiting litigation results.

Sometimes, animals remain at the Aquarium for years before they are released from temporary holding, and some of these animals are not returned to the suppliers who purchased them. Instead, they find a home at an aquarium!

Deciding which aquarium a particular animal will go to depends on a variety of factors, but habitat fit is the most important consideration. The National Aquarium, while impressively diverse, doesn’t always have the right habitat available for a particular species. That is when we partner with other AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums on the East Coast to determine the right destination for a seized animal.

Why don’t we send all of the animals home? While at times, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife is able to successfully repatriate trafficked animals, often the journey they took to reach the United States is too dangerous and stressful to reattempt. Other times, we simply don’t know where they came from—whether they were wild caught or bred in captivity—and returning these animals to their natural habitats would put them at further risk.

Learn more about the Animal Care and Rescue Center where we helped these animals get back on their fins!

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