An elephant in a small indoor zoo enclosure
  • In Person
  • Beyond Zoos

    • Date:
    • Time: 18:30 - 21:15
    • Location: Royal Geographical Society, 1 Kensington Gore, South Kensington, London, SW7 2AR
    • Admission fee: £22 / £12 students / £10 live stream


    A public discussion with expert speakers, exploring whether we can deliver greater support for conservation, biodiversity, ecosystem protection, animal welfare, public education and effective research by looking ‘beyond zoos’.

    On Wednesday 29th November, Born Free will host a lively panel discussion, Beyond Zoos, at the prestigious Royal Geographical Society in London.

    Chaired by Born Free Co-Founder and Executive President Will Travers OBE, our panel of experts will discuss what a future ‘beyond zoos’ could look like.

    Meet the Panellists

    Cash bar available from 6:30pm, discussion starts at 7:15pm, event finishes at 9:15pm.

    A lion rests his head against metal bars

    (c) George Logan

    Across the world, millions of wild animals are held in thousands of zoos. The justifications given for this global form of wild animal exploitation include conservation, education, and research.

    Since 1984, Born Free has challenged those justifications, believing that when it comes to compassionate conservation, empowerment through education, and effective, non-invasive research, we can and must do better.

    At a time of crisis for wildlife and biodiversity, when resources – financial and human – are stretched, it’s time not only to examine the claims made by zoos but to look beyond the current paradigm in search of better outcomes. There are important questions to be asked.

    • Do zoos truly serve an important conservation purpose by maintaining ‘insurance populations’ of threatened species that contribute to field conservation efforts, and do they make financial and other contributions to conservation programmes?
    • Do zoos provide opportunities to educate the public, encourage an appreciation of nature and wildlife, and inspire current and future generations of conservationists?
    • Do zoos provide the animals they keep with purposeful, safe, high-welfare conditions in which to live out their lives?
    • And does the research that zoos conduct make a significant contribution to resolving the conservation and biodiversity crisis, or is it substantially directed towards resolving the physical, social and psychological challenges faced by animals because of their confinement?

    Born Free has a decades-long and principled position when it comes to zoos, encapsulated by our vision to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild’. However, Beyond Zoos is not simply a platform for repeating well-worn arguments both for and against the mass exploitation of wild animals in zoos. It is far more than that.

    Beyond Zoos will bring together a talented and unexpected panel of global experts and thought-leaders not only to review the past, and our current situation, but look forward – to explore whether there are more effective ways to engage with people around the world to deliver a truly nature-friendly future.*

    With that in mind, Born Free will host a discussion at the Royal Geographical Society, London, on 29 November 2023 and will be inviting you and the rest of our audience to look Beyond Zoos.

    Our discussions will examine the challenges that exist, identify the barriers that may currently prevent alternatives from becoming a reality, and explore effective solutions.

    Beyond Zoos is kindly sponsored by Nukkleus Inc.

    Nukkleus logo

    Nukkleus Inc. is a FinTech group that acquires, builds and scales blockchain and digital financial services businesses. The portfolio serves B2B and institutional clients with the aim of disrupting the banking & investment industry for the better. Nukkleus provides free same day cross border payments for NGO’s and charities when sending funds to remote areas for aid and humanitarian support. Nukkleus is thrilled to be sponsoring Born Free and supporting their global wildlife preservation work. 

    *While Born Free and our panellists may not all agree on the way wild animals are currently managed in captive situations, through Beyond Zoos, the panellists offer different perspectives on how we might do a better job of addressing the current biodiversity crisis and inspiring our increasingly urbanised society, without keeping wild animals captive. 

    There is currently no legal definition of a sanctuary in the UK. Some genuine wildlife sanctuaries are required to obtain a zoo licence if they open their doors to the public for seven or more days a year, and are therefore considered as zoos for legal purposes. Born Free endorses the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries which works to ensure abandoned, displaced, or injured animals receive the highest standards of care during rescue, rehabilitation, and the rest of their life, and publishes exacting standards that its accredited sanctuaries must reach and apply.  Such a sanctuary will have a no breeding policy, will never buy or sell animals, nor will they allow direct physical contact between animals in their care and members of the public, ensuring that those animals can choose to avoid the presence of people.  

    We are delighted to reveal our Panellists for this important discussion:

    Portrait photo of Chris PackhamChris Packham
    Conservationist and Wildlife Television Presenter

    Chris Packham is a broadcaster and environmental and animal welfare campaigner based in the UK. He works with numerous charities and activist groups to try and instigate rapid and effective transitions to better world, nature and human solutions. He has a long history of working with captive animals and supports far reaching reforms in the way we operate captive wildlife collections.

    “Change is now imperative. In practically every aspect of our lives; transport, energy, food – essentially consumption; it needs a personal, national, and global overhaul. And for me as a lover of all life, every last sliming, slithering, stinging thing, symbolically at the core of this lies ‘animal welfare’. The term is often too narrowly considered; it’s not just about physical cruelty or torture, it’s about attitude, understanding, empathy, respect, and the reality that we are destroying life and lives.

    “Zoos are a fixture of our lives, they’ve always been there, and thus they sadly have become for many ‘background noise’: too familiar to question, something that just is, just happens.

    “But the world has changed way more rapidly than the vast majority of zoos, the core ethos of many is outdated, and few are fuelled with a genuine desire to accept the changes they so desperately need to make. I grew up in zoos, my partner Charlotte inherited a zoo, but that was then. Now more than ever we and they must robustly question their roles and radically change their practices and objectives, because it’s not only ‘Robin Redbreast in a cage’ that ‘puts all heaven in a rage’.”

    Photo of Greta Iori standing in front of a stone archwayGreta Iori
    Director of Program Development for the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation

    Greta is an Ethiopian-Italian environment and wildlife conservation adviser to various African governments and international organisations. She has extensive experience in working to bring an end to illegal wildlife trade across the Horn of Africa, resolve human-wildlife conflict and better understand the gendered dynamics of organised criminal networks — while encouraging more sustainable, and inclusive conservation models across Africa.

    Greta is a Women for the Environmental Africa founding fellow, and currently heads the Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation’s (EPIF) program development and human-elephant conflict and coexistence work across 23 African member states, and between Africa and Asia. She passionately advocates for more compassionate and nuanced systems change, including the vital collaboration required of all to enable socio-environmental justice and coexistence.

    “I believe that visioning a world ‘Beyond Zoos’ must firmly acknowledge and unpack the complexities of our historical, socio-political, cultural, and broader structural dysfunctions and deficiencies – especially within the environmental arena today.

    “The question remains, can we foster holistic thinking on ways to address root causes of wildlife losses, while strengthening safeguards for biodiversity and people, as well as making contingency plans for our most at-risk species? We can only hope that these vital dialogues can and will contribute to a path for a sustainable future that celebrates nature’s magnificence and cultivates harmony between humanity and our environment.”

    Damian Aspinall, bending over in front of a gorillaDamian Aspinall
    Chairman of the Aspinall Foundation and The Howletts Wild Animal Trust.

    Damian Aspinall owns two zoos in the UK, Port Lympne Safari Park and Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent. However, Damian is well known for his outspoken views on the failure of zoos and his wish that they ultimately be closed, including his own facilities. The Aspinall Foundation breeds gorillas and other wild animals in captivity and works to return them to the wild in Africa.

    “We have no moral right as a species to let animals suffer just because we are curious about them,” he says. “Parents should not be taking their kids to zoos. I know that would hurt me as much as anyone else but that’s my honest answer. There’s no excuse for any zoo today.

    “The Aspinall Foundation is the preeminent rescue and rewilding organisation in the world today. Well over a thousand animals have been rescued or rewilded including 70 Gorillas and 300 primates. It has projects in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Gabon, Congo, Kenya, Madagascar, Java, Sumatra, and Pakistan.

    “The Trust is a charity that runs two wildlife sanctuaries in Kent and is world-renowned for its world-record breeding of endangered animals and its rewilding programmes.”

    Dr Winnie Kiiru
    Research scientist & wildlife biologist

    Dr. Winnie Kiiru is a highly accomplished research scientist and wildlife biologist with over 25 years of experience in wildlife management, environmental policy, and global environmental advocacy. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, she has significantly contributed to conservation through her strategic leadership, organisational expertise, and dedication to sustainable development in East Africa.

    Dr Kiiru has held corporate governance and board leadership positions in various organisations, including Stop Ivory, Kenya Wildlife Service, Born Free Foundation, Species Survival Network, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, and even lecturing at the School of Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences at JKUAT and Technical University respectively.

    In recognition of her outstanding contributions to conservation, Dr. Winnie Kiiru received the prestigious Order of the Grand Warrior Award in 2022, one of Kenya’s highest civilian honours. Additionally, in2016, she was honoured with the Woman of Excellence Award by the Kenya Association of Women in Tourism, underscoring her significant impact on the conservation landscape.