Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

CBBC’s The Zoo is not Magic for Animals

11 August 2017

Categories: Homepage News, Zoo Check Campaign News

International wildlife charity, Born Free has today expressed its “profound disappointment” at a new television series called The Zoo which is set to air on children’s channel, CBBC, from Monday 14th August.

The series is being described by the BBC as “an observational documentary about real life at the zoo - with a comedy spin”. Animals at Paignton Zoo, Devon, have been given human voices and computer-generated moving mouths, which CBBC Controller and Commissioning Editor Cheryl Taylor said promised a “fact-filled and fun-packed series centered around the fascinating characters and everyday adventures at the zoo”.

However, in a letter to Taylor, Born Free Foundation President, Will Travers OBE, called for the programme to be removed from the schedule immediately.

Travers said: “The incarceration of wild animals, frequently for life, the lack of meaningful education, and the dubious conservation claims made by the zoo industry are unlikely to be challenged in a series described as “‘fact-filled and fun-packed’ and full of ‘everyday adventures.’ Indeed, attributing human voices to the animals and misinterpreting their actions to meet a fabricated narrative are seriously misleading and mis-educational.

Seeking to address Mr Travers’ concerns, Alice Webb, Director BBC Children’s, likened the new series to “the popular BBC comedy Porridge – it isn’t funny because people are in prison, rather from the misunderstandings and mishaps of human interaction in small community.” 

Travers responded: “I am astounded that Ms Webb should have compared The Zoo with Porridge. One is a dearly-loved comedy starring the late Ronnie Barker and Richard Beckinsale. The other is about captive animals given human voices, expressing humanistic viewpoints about their totally artificial lives. Prison is what we do to people who have done something so bad that society deprives them of their freedom. A zoo is an entity that deprives wild animals of freedom for entertainment and dubious education.”

Ms Webb states in her response to Born Free that there is “widespread and mainstream scientific evidence and opinion about the positive educational and conservation value of good quality zoos”. This is at odds with the conclusions reached in the 2016 Horizon episode ‘Should we Close Our Zoos’ and research published as recently as 2014 by WAZA, The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which compared public actions and behaviors before and after visits to the zoo. The findings will shock many, seeming to indicate that, in a number of cases, self-reported public actions to help protect biodiversity remained virtually unchanged or even went down after their visit – including with regard to animals and habitat protection. 

“At a time when even our present government, not well-known for progressive policies on wild animal issues, is on the verge of banning the use of wild animals in circuses ‘on ethical grounds’, when newspapers like The Guardian are calling for the end of selfish selfies with wild animals on Tinder and other digital platforms, when Born Free and others are calling on Facebook to make ‘up close and personal’ images of wild animals with humans ‘reportable’ and when there is growing pressure to end the trade in wild animals as ‘cute pets’, CBBC’s decision to make The Zoo is likely to unravel the painstaking efforts that Born Free and other organisations have made to re-educate the public about the reality of animals’ lives in zoos,” he added.

Ms Webb, in her letter which copied in BBC Director General, Lord Hall, asserted that the BBC Natural History Unit who made the programme has a ‘long and well-deserved reputation for factual integrity”.

Travers concluded: “I fear that The Zoo risks damaging the high esteem with which the NHU is held internationally. Depicting animals this way to a highly-impressionable 8-12 year old audience will, in my view, do nothing to advance our understanding of animals and I ask you to show some respect for a society that has moved on since Animal Magic and withdraw this kind of programming from the schedule.” 

If you feel The Zoo will present a false view of real life in the zoo, is likely to miseducate our children and trivialise captivity, and that the BBC should withdraw the series, please write to Cheryl Taylor, CBBC Commissioning Editor: cheryl.taylor@bbc.co.uk, expressing your views and support Born Free's Beyond The Bars campaign. Please do copy in will@bornfree.org.uk 

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906


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