Council Directive 1999/22/EC (“the Directive”), relating to the keeping of wild animals in zoos, was adopted in 1999. It was created to strengthen the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity and improve standards in animal husbandry.”
The Directive came into force in April 2002, when the EU comprised 15 EU Member States. Since then, all countries that are Members of the EU have been obliged to transpose the requirements of the Directive into national legislation and, from April 2005 (2007 in the case of Bulgaria and Romania, and 2013 in the case of Croatia), fully implement and enforce its requirements. The European Commission has the responsibility to oversee and ensure the effective implementation of the Directive by Member States and to take legal action in the event of non-compliance.
The Directive provided a framework for Member State legislation, through the licensing and inspection of zoos, to strengthen the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity and the exchange of information to promote the protection and conservation of wild animal species. This is in accordance with the Community’s obligation to adopt measures for ex situ conservation under Article 9 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992). Member States are also required to adopt further measures that include: the provision of adequate accommodation for zoo animals that aims to satisfy their biological needs; species-specific enrichment of enclosures; a high standard of animal husbandry; a programme of preventative and curative veterinary care and nutrition; and to prevent the escape of animals and the intrusion of outside pests and vermin.
Although the Directive has been transposed into national law in all Member States, such laws often lack detailed provisions relating to educational and scientific activities, guidance on adequate animal care, and licensing and inspection procedures, as well as clear strategies for dealing with animals in the event of zoo closure. The Directive’s requirements themselves are relatively ambiguous and allow for inconsistencies in interpretation. Competent Authorities in Member States have not been provided with comprehensive guidance or training to facilitate the adoption of the provisions of the Directive and, as a consequence, many are failing to ensure these provisions are fully applied by zoos (Eurogroup for Animals, 2008; ENDCAP, 2009; Born Free Foundation 2012).
Estimates place the total number of licensed zoos in the EU to be at least 4,000. However, there are thought to be hundreds of unlicensed and unregulated zoological collections that have yet to be identified and licensed by the Competent Authorities. No more than 8% of the total number of zoos in Europe are members of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA). Whilst some refer to EAZA zoos as ‘progressive zoos’, they should not be regarded as a representative of zoos in the European Community, nor exclusively representative of best practice.
Investigations reveal that many zoos in the EU are substandard and are failing to comply with the requirements of the Directive and national zoo law. Furthermore, EU Member States are inconsistent in their application of the Directive. However, until the EU Zoo Inquiry, little effort had been made to identify and address the reasons behind this. The EU Zoo Inquiry project assesses the situation in individual Member States, identifies any issues requiring attention and provides recommendations with regard to how application can be improved.
The EU Zoo Inquiry is the only project to date that has undertaken a thorough independent investigation into the status and performance of zoos across the European Union.