Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Do Inspections Ensure that British Zoos Meet Minimum Animal Welfare Standards?

18 November 2013

Categories: Homepage News, Zoo Check Campaign News

New study reveals zoo licensing and inspection system is failing to guarantee essential animal welfare standards in Britain.

A new study carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol and the Born Free Foundation has assessed whether the current mandatory regime of zoo inspections is ensuring that British zoos meet minimum animal welfare standards. The researchers analysed inspection reports completed by Government-appointed Inspectors at 136 licensed zoos across Britain between 2005-2011 to assess how well they were complying with minimum animal welfare standards.

Zoos in England, Wales and Scotland are licensed under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, which requires them to meet minimum standards including those relating to animal welfare, conservation and education. Zoo Inspectors are required to assess whether zoos comply with these standards as part of site inspections which take place every three to four years. 

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

  • Only 22 out of 136 zoos were assessed as meeting all the animal welfare standards at consecutive inspections.
  • One or more of the same criteria remained substandard at consecutive inspections in more than one-third of zoos (35%).
  • The type of zoo had a significant effect on animal welfare performance, with bird parks and farm parks performing least well.
  • Zoos that were members of a professional association (BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) did not significantly out-perform non-members but were more likely to be assessed as remaining compliant between inspections.
  • Having the same Inspector(s) at consecutive inspections was associated with being assessed similarly at consecutive inspections, while having different Inspectors at consecutive inspections was associated with a change in assessment of how well the zoo complied with the standards.
  • There was no conclusive evidence suggesting that there was an overall improvement in levels of compliance by British zoos over the period. The data suggest that animal welfare in British zoos may not necessarily improve following inspection and may even decline in some cases.

An earlier study published in 2012 looked at the assessment of animal welfare in British zoos by Government-appointed inspectors between 2005-2008 and found that only 27% of the licensed premises were assessed as meeting all the required animal welfare standards.

Will Travers OBE, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, said: “British zoos often claim to deliver higher standards than others around the world, but this study adds further weight to our conviction that we should not forget what is happening on our own doorstep. It is very concerning to see the range of problems that still afflict British zoos and their animals, and to discover that so many are failing to meet, let alone exceed, minimum animal welfare standards. It seems that the zoo licensing and inspection process, and the zoo industry itself, cannot guarantee the welfare of animals in British zoos, and it is time for a radical rethink regarding our approach to zoos in Britain.”

The Born Free Foundation is calling on the Government-appointed Zoos Expert Committee and the relevant licencing 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, Browne W & Harris S (2013). Do Formal Inspections Ensure that British Zoos Meet and Improve on Minimum Animal Welfare Standards? Animals 3(4), 1058-1072;

Born Free Foundation
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