There is a long history of maintaining wild animals in captivity in menageries and zoological collections in the UK. The menagerie at the Tower of London which kept big cats was begun in 1235 during the reign of Henry III; and London Zoo opened as a ‘scientific’ zoo in 1828.
Zoos are defined as ‘all permanent establishments where animals of wild species are kept for exhibition to the public for 7 or more days a year’. (Council Directive 1999/22/EC of 29 March 1999 relating to the keeping of wild animals in zoos)
Today, a large number of establishments display wild animals to the public in the UK - latest estimates put the number at over 530.
Every year the Zoo Check team visits many of these zoological collections, investigates concerns and collects information in order to assess and evaluate the performance and standards of UK zoos. Areas of concern include:
The Zoo Licensing Act of 1981 and associated legislation was put in place to ensure that animals in such premises are provided with a suitable environment, and to require the inspection and licensing of all zoos.
The Born Free Foundation believes that wild animals should not be kept in captivity. Nevertheless, while zoos exist, it is imperative that zoo legislation be applied and enforced to ensure that certain standards of animal welfare are met.
The Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice outline requirements for zoos to ensure that their animals are provided with:
In principle, these provisions should protect the animals’ welfare in general terms.
However, the Born Free Foundation is concerned that in practice many zoos may be failing to ensure these basic provisions. Any evidence of animal welfare concerns is reported to relevant authorities.
Download our fact sheet - Understanding Animal Welfare - PDF 77KB
Zoos in the UK have a legal requirement to participate in conservation and to promote public education and awareness of biodiversity conservation. Zoos frequently promote themselves to the general public as centres of conservation and education.
The Born Free Foundation believes that the conservation benefits claimed by zoos do not justify the keeping of wild animals in captivity, and questions the effectiveness of captivity-based conservation and education.
Download Conservation in UK zoos
Download Education in UK zoos
Standards of Modern Zoo Practice: