Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Alarm Bells for Animal Welfare in British Zoos

2 October 2012

Categories: Homepage News, Zoo Check Campaign News

Comprehensive new analysis reveals large scale evidence of regulatory failure to guarantee animal welfare standards in licensed UK zoos.

In a ground-breaking new study (The assessment of animal welfare in British zoos by Government-appointed inspectors) , researchers from the Born Free Foundation and the University of Bristol examined reports completed by Government-appointed zoo inspectors following inspections of 192 licensed zoos in Britain and have exposed for the first time just how the welfare of animals in zoos is being assessed. Since 1984 zoos in England, Wales and Scotland have been licensed under the Zoo Licensing Act, which requires them to meet minimum standards relating to animal welfare, conservation, education and in other areas.

The key findings of the study, published in the journal Animals, reveal that:

  • Only 47 zoos (24%) were assessed as meeting all the animal welfare standards
  • 47% of zoos were assessed as not meeting two or more of the criteria relating to the provision of animal health care.
  • Nearly a quarter of zoos did not appear to have established and maintained a satisfactory programme of preventative and curative veterinary care.
  • 25% of zoos were assessed as not meeting one or more of the standards relating to the provision of food and water.
  • 24% of zoos were reported as failing to comply with Conditions (improvement orders) imposed at the previous inspection.
  • Farm parks with wild animals and bird collections in particular appeared to be performing particularly poorly.
  • One zoo was assessed as failing to meet nearly half of all animal welfare standards

Zoos have their operating licence renewed every six years and zoo inspectors are required to assess animal welfare, in addition to matters relating to conservation, public safety, legislative compliance and other issues, as part of onsite inspections which take place every three to four years. The study also raised serious concerns about the quality of zoo inspections:

  • Inspections of all but one of the zoos assessed were carried out in a single day, even though their size and complexity varied enormously, from facilities with a handful of species and individual animals to collections with 2,800 individual wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians from 300 species.
  • On 7% of occasions, the same inspector inspected more than one zoo in a single day.
  • At least 11% of inspections were not carried out by the correct number of inspectors.

Will Travers OBE, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, said: "After nearly 30 years of licensing and regulation the public have a right to expect that zoos in England, Wales and Scotland will not just meet but in many respects exceed the minimum standards required of them by law. The public also have a right to expect that Government-appointed Zoo Inspectors together with Local Authorities will have the relevant expertise to carry out inspections ensuring that the welfare of the animals and the safety of visitors are guaranteed and that zoos are delivering on their legal obligations to carry out conservation, education and research."

The authors make a number of recommendations for how the inspection process and the welfare of animals in British zoos might be improved, including introducing independent auditing of the zoo inspection process, amendments to how inspectors report their findings and more rigorous inspections for certain types of zoos.

Will Travers added: “I am greatly disappointed to discover that so many zoos in Britain, which are often held up as industry leaders in Europe, appear to be performing so poorly in terms of animal welfare.”

The Born Free Foundation is calling on the Government-appointed Zoos Expert Committee and the relevant authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to consider this new evidence and bring forward urgent new measures to ensure that all licensed zoos are meeting their legal and moral obligations to the animals in their care and to the paying public.

Draper C & Harris S (2012). The assessment of animal welfare in British zoos by Government-appointed inspectors. Animals 2: 507-528.
Available for download at:

The research was funded by the Born Free Foundation and the study is the first to review the assessment of animal welfare in British zoos since the enactment of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.

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

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