In 1987, prompted by distressing images of captive wild animals in European zoos, and at the request of the European Commission, a fledgling organisation then called Zoo Check (now Born Free), embarked on an investigation to try and find out just what was going on in EU zoos. At that time, the best list of zoological facilities indicated that there were in the order of 300 institutions. By the time we had finished our work which took more than a year, we had 1007.
Of course, we were, even then, way off the mark because today more robust data indicates that there are nearly 4000 zoos across the European Union.
How do we know this? Because our original research led ultimately to the establishment of the European Zoos Directive (1999/22) which required, amongst other things, that all zoos be licenced.
So now we know roughly how many zoos there are, but do we know what goes on in them?
In 2009, Born Free launched a six year project, called The EU Zoo Inquiry, which actually visited hundreds of zoos and recorded millions of images to try to answer questions such as; whether the minimum requirements of the Zoos Directive had been implemented; whether the zoo community was delivering on its obligations to conserve bio-diversity; whether zoos were truly educating the millions of visitors who still come through the door.
The results of our investigations were shocking. A handful of countries and a handful of zoos have stepped up and were trying. The majority, not so much.
But our effort has resulted in two unexpected and positive outcomes. It has encouraged the European Union to pay for the creation of a ‘Good Practices’ zoos guide, published in 2015, aimed at building-capacity within the government authorities and the zoo industry. It has also prompted the commissioning of REFIT, An Evaluation of the Zoos Directive, which is now, as we speak, assessing the impact of the Zoos Directive.
Participating in the evaluation is open to everyone. It is not necessarily easy and it can be a little complex but, if you have the time to take part and complete the online questionnaire, which will help inform the European Union (whether you are a fan of the EU or not!), then here is the link.
Remember, there are millions of captive wild animals in thousands of EU zoos, including dolphins in dolphinaria, elephants, lions, primates, the mega-vertebrates. But also there are so many species that so easily get forgotten – that fly under the radar.
If the Directive were rigorously applied and if the standards set by national governments were improved and enforced then the kind of neglect and suffering we still witness day in, day out in European zoos, would diminish significantly.
So you have time to spare (is it something for the weekend?) here is that link again and here is a link to a document that will help you complete the Questionnaire. The consultation process closes on the 8th December.
Good luck and thanks for helping.
PS. The deprivation and suffering of captive wild animals is never out of my thoughts for long. So watch out in 2017 for the launch of some exciting initiatives that could make a real difference – you can be part of the change!