Class 1 animal safety in the wild and in captivity

Authored By Ashley Hopkins

Class 1 animals, as defined by Tennessee Code Annotated 70-4-403









Gelada baboons












African buffalos



Poisonous snakes

Poisonous amphibians

Every summer, animal attacks make headlines. Sharks infest waters at popular beaches; bears attack families that are wandering in the bears’ habitats. Of course animal attacks aren’t dependent on time of year, but as the weather warms up and we head into spaces that belong to other creatures, we have to be especially diligent about the live threats in the great outdoors.

In the East Tennessee area, black bears are the main Class 1 animal threat-Class 1 referring to animals that are dangerous and capable of causing mortal harm. Trails in the Great Smoky Mountains were closed earlier this year after a black bear attacked a teen.

The most important thing to do when encountering a Class 1 animal in the wild is to not look them in the eye, experts say. Most animals view this as a threat. Instead, slow your movements, avoiding any quick reactions, which will help you from triggering a dangerous situation. Although the instinct is to run, don’t, experts say.

But just because they’re dangerous doesn’t make Class 1 animals any less fascinating. Perhaps the danger, really, is what makes them so fascinating, and part of the reason why Class 1 animals often reside at zoos and other habitats for the public to observe. Many Class 1 animals, such as chimpanzees, are also endangered and part of species survival plans, which is another reason they reside in protected areas.

Locally, there are chimpanzees, jaguars, cougars and snow leopards-all Class 1 animals-at the Chattanooga Zoo. These mesmerizing creatures live in special habitats appropriate to their native homes and provide locals and visitors alike a glimpse into their lives and habits. But safety to both keepers and the general public is of utmost importance.

Most zoos, certainly accredited zoos, have two-keeper rules for Class 1 animals, which means that two keepers check all locks and doors, as well as get a visual on all animals before entering their enclosures or shifting animals on and off exhibit. Keepers often announce over the radio when entering and exiting a Class 1 exhibit. A two-minute rule for stopping and checking locks before entering enclosures or shifting animals also helps keep everyone safe.

All primary enclosures for Class 1 animals are also surrounded by secondary spaces as a safety net, should escapes from primary enclosures occur.

It is important to remember, at zoos, habitats and in the wild, that Class 1 animals are never fully tamed. Animals raised in captivity may exhibit their naturalistic characteristics and behaviors less often than their counterparts in the wild, but they still fully possess their wild instincts, and are therefore unpredictable and exhibit dangerous behaviors. They should only be admired, never provoked-not in the wild, not in captivity.

Stacy Laberdee graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and started her career at the Toledo Zoo. She later worked with rhinoceros, giraffe, African hoofstock, lions and more  at the Kansas City Zoo, as well as with animals of many kinds at the Virginia Zoo. She’s now the general curator at the Chattanooga Zoo. She’s attended many workshops and conferences through the years and has been published on the American Association of Zoo Keepers forum.

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