Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Animal Ark or Sinking Ship?

At least 5,624 species of vertebrate animals are currently threatened with extinction worldwide.

The role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity, and specifically ex situ conservation, became a legal obligation in Europe in 2002 with the implementation of the European Zoos Directive. The Directive was fully incorporated into UK zoo legislation in 2003. Perhaps recognising an opportunity to refute growing scepticism over the keeping of animals in captivity, zoos assumed the role of animal ‘arks’ and promoted their new conservation purpose.

However, despite claims by zoos that their contribution to conservation is significant, to date there has been no reliable mechanism to assess zoos’ performance. Should the conservation credentials of zoos be taken on trust?

In 2007, the Born Free Foundation undertook a series of investigations to assess the conservation commitment of the UK’s more ‘progressive’ zoos.
Download the report summary - pdf 815KB

Painted dogs (c) BFF
Painted dogs - recent arrivals in London NW1
Koala enclosure at Edinburgh (c)BFF
Koala enclosure at Edinburgh zoo - part of their £58 million masterplan?

Born Free’s investigation reveals some startling findings:

1. 91.1% of threatened mammal species are not represented in the Consortium of Charitable Zoos (CCZ) (‘the most progressive zoos in the country’).

2. Nearly 95% of threatened bird species are not represented in CCZ zoos.

3. The CCZ keeps only 11 of the 1,811 threatened species of amphibian (ie 0.6%).

4. The CCZ only keeps 3.5% of the total number of animal species (mammals, birds and amphibians) listed by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2006).

5. More than 60% of species kept by the CCZ are in the ‘Least Concern’ category (lowest IUCN Red List category).

6. Only 37% of CCZ animals are higher risk than Least Concern.

7. Only one third of animal species for which a captive breeding programme exists are kept by the CCZ.

8. One quarter of CCZ species included in European breeding programmes are classed as Least Concern.

9. At least 69% of the public believe zoos spend more on conservation in the wild than they actually do. The CCZ appears to spend an estimated 4–6.7% of gross income on conservation in the wild. The public believes zoos spend about four times that amount.

10. The public believes at least 41% of species kept in zoos are threatened in the wild. But less than 25% of CCZ species are threatened in the wild.

Gorilla - (c)BFF/Nicky Scurr
London zoo's new gorilla exhibit reportedly cost £5.3 million. What could this money have done for wild gorilla conservation?
Asian Elephants at Twycross zoo - (c)BFF
Asian elephants at Twycross zoo. European zoos are considering the import of yet more elephants from the wild.

If this represents their commitment to conservation, are these zoos really part of the broader conservation solution, or should the limited financial resources and human effort be more effectively applied directly to conservation of threatened species in their wild habitat?


Full details can be found in our two reports:

Is the Ark Afloat? pdf - 278KB Captivity and ex situ conservation in UK zoos.

Committed to Conservation? pdf - 193KB An overview of the Consortium of Charitable Zoos In Situ conservation dividend.

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