HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The Humane Society of the United States said Wednesday it will ask Maryland lawmakers to tighten regulation of certain state roadside zoos to close what it called a federal enforcement loophole.

Three nonprofit zoos targeted by the Washington-based animal-protection group objected to its proposal to require them to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums if they want to continue exhibiting big cats, bears and primates. The publicly funded Baltimore and Salisbury zoos have such accreditation, which involves outside inspection of financial records and business practices as well as animal enclosures.

The roadside zoos, already regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, defeated a similar legislative proposal in 2005, arguing it would be costly and intrusive. The HSUS said the measure’s odds have improved with a 2010 USDA inspector general’s report critical of zoo inspections, and the society’s own report on the three roadside zoos.

The report cites scores of alleged Animal Welfare Act violations since 2006 at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont, the Plumpton Park Zoological Gardens in Rising Sun and the Tri-State Zoological Park in Cumberland. The HSUS, which is not affiliated with local humane societies, said the numbers reflect flaws in USDA zoo standards and enforcement capabilities.

“This report we released today clearly illustrates that a USDA license is no guarantee of humane and safe animal care,” said Tami Santelli, the society’s Maryland director. She said that in Kentucky, Ohio and Washington, a USDA license alone does not allow zoos to house regulated animals.

The Catoctin Zoo is accredited by the Zoological Association of America, which the HSUS calls “a fringe group with weak standards.” Richard Hahn, the zoo’s executive director, rejected that characterization. He said the ZAA has high standards for animal care but doesn’t do inspections as detailed — or charge membership fees as high — as the AZA.

“The emphasis of the ZAA is basically on the animals,” Hahn said. “They don’t ask you to open your books.”

Hahn’s zoo agreed last year to pay $12,000 to settle allegations of USDA violations, including one stemming from the 2009 mauling of a zookeeper by a jaguar.

Nicholas Lacovara of the Plumpton Park Zoo said the HSUS wants to shut down roadside zoos. Lacovara said he’s not opposed to joining the AZA “but I hate to think we’d be put out of existence because we don’t belong to a particular organization.”

Tri-State Zoo owner Robert Candy, who is fighting a 45-day suspension order over alleged violations, said an accreditation requirement isn’t practical.

“We’ve been inspected by the USDA. They’ve come in and inspected, and we’re fine,” he said.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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