Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

How to approach your child’s school visit to the zoo or mobile zoo at a friend’s party

Bearded dragon

Born Free often receives enquiries from parents and carers asking us for advice, concerned that their child will be attending an upcoming zoo visit and might sometimes feel under pressure or struggling to avoid taking their children to activities or places that involve captive wild animals.

It is clear that some teachers or other parents simply don’t understand the negative impact of such activities on animals, and so it is essential to be understanding and explain, educate and raise their awareness.

Here are a few things that may be of use:

  • If you are unhappy about your child participating, write a careful and calm letter to the organiser, explaining the problems with the use of captive wild animals and suggesting humane alternatives. You can find handy letter templates below!
  • Be imaginative and do something alternative and engaging that encourages your child to be active and enjoy the natural world.


  • Visit a nature reserve – many people forget that we have the most amazing British wildlife all around us. Get outdoors and explore your local area; the opportunities are endless.
  • Visit a museum – Long gone are the days of static exhibitions in spaces that are uninspiring; we now have some amazing interactive museums, with all kinds of educational, engaging exhibits that are suitable for all ages.
  • Watch a wildlife documentary or film – Viewers today can immerse themselves in programmes that open our world up to the incredible planet we live on. Wildlife documentaries are educational and often show animals in their natural habitat, displaying natural behaviours – Fascinating! Check out a Born Free supported documentary on the captive whale and dolphin industry here.
  • Build an insect hotel – Insects will use man-made structures to lay eggs, or to hibernate in through the winter. These range from woodpiles, garden canes and furniture to holes in brickwork and garden sheds. Get all your unwanted, useful items and get building! The RSPB site have some great tips.
  • Have a fancy dress party/fundraiser – A great way of getting all ages involved in anything ‘wildlife’, is to organise a fundraiser or fancy dress party, that includes facts, fun activities and ideas that will allow your children to use their imagination and tell others what they’ve learnt about animals. It also allows you to be a part of raising money for an important cause. Download our free fundraising pack here.
  • Read books about what amazing animals we have on this planet.
  • Join WildCrew for free games and fun activities. Join today.
  • Invite an animal charity in to talk about the amazing work they do - often these talks include games, presentations and  will potentially inspire children to pursue their interest in animal welfare/conservation – these talks should never include live animals.
  • Download an interactive, educational app for your children to use. We highly recommend this one from our lovely friends at Patrick George.

Mobile zoos

  • Mobile zoos are still largely unregulated
  • No annual inspections
  • Many animals used in mobile zoos can pose a potential risk; reptiles can host infectious diseases and some mammals and birds can inflict a nasty bite.  
  • However ‘happy’ the animals may appear, they are often subjected to a life of noisy gatherings, hours of handling, repeated transport and tiny cages when not on display. Click here: Mobile zoo school letter template


  • Even the ‘best’ zoo can never recreate the complex environment that most species encounter in the wild.
  • Animals often develop stereotypic behaviours ; repetitive, functionless behaviour that develops in some animals in captivity as a result of impoverished or frustrating environments.
  • There are currently more than 250 licensed zoos in operation in the UK
  • Recent incidents in UK zoos, such as the expose of conditions at South Lakes Safari Zoo and the escape of a gorilla at London Zoo, highlight the urgent need for improved standards and a more rigorous inspection process to ensure that basic animal welfare and standards are in place.
  • Although safari parks and aquariums may appear to offer a modicum more space and seemingly give captive animals a more ‘natural’ environment, behind the expensive, drive-through enclosures and walk through exhibits, lies a more mundane and worrying reality: animals may be locked in tiny night quarters for the majority of each 24 hour period; and both share many problems inherent with keeping and breeding animals in captivity.
  • In The Zoo Licensing Act, “zoo” means an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public (otherwise than for purposes of a circus or pet shop) and is open to the public on seven or more days a year: this therefore classifying most UK safari parks and aquariums as zoos. Click here: School zoo visit letter template

We are convinced that children need to learn about all animals - big and small - but seeing animals in captivity is not genuinely educational; think about how unnatural it is to see animals devoid of their natural habitat, in enclosures that are far too small for their needs, constantly stared at hours each day.

Photos (C) George Logan
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

Share | |