Fireworks: harmless fun, or compounded misery for animals in zoos?

Born Free urges everyone to consider the wellbeing of animals this firework and bonfire season.

A montage of photographs showing fireworks and animals in captivity

Whilst many of us are aware of how our pets and animal companions can suffer as a result of fireworks, the welfare of animals in zoos and other captive facilities is often overlooked as hundreds of spectators gather at organised events on site or nearby.   

The negative impact that fireworks can have on animals is a long-standing issue that has been highlighted for many years by Born Free and other animal welfare organisations such as the RSPCA, who issue guidance on how to protect our pets. Born Free is extremely concerned about the impact of firework displays on animals held in zoos – captive animals have no way of escaping or distancing themselves from stressful situations.

Whilst we can try to offer some comfort at home to our pet dogs and cats, imagine being a wild animal held in a cage. There’s no hugging a scared and confused lion, who is already trying to cope with living in completely unnatural conditions in a zoo. Animals can do without the added stress of firework displays, particularly at a time when they would normally be getting some peace and quiet at the end of the day, away from zoo visitors.

Wild species have evolved to live and thrive in specific wild habitats, with many having developed unique physical and behavioural adaptions and heightened senses, such as fine-tuned hearing, precision eyesight, and a super sense of smell. These adaptations help them to survive and thrive in the wild but can make them particularly vulnerable to the noise and flashing lights caused by fireworks.
Sadly, there have been reported incidences of terrified captive animals injuring themselves or even dying after flying or running into their enclosure fencing after being startled by fireworks.

Some zoos market their displays as featuring ‘bang-less’ or ‘low noise’ fireworks. However, as acknowledged by the companies that sell them, many still make noises as they explode in the sky. Even if the noise isn’t as loud as that made by standard fireworks, it can still be enough to startle and scare animals, as we reported last year in relation to a display at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria.

The visual aspects of fireworks and flashes of multi-coloured lights can also still be extremely stressful for animals regardless of how loud the bangs may be. Whilst we appreciate that some audiences, as well as animals, may benefit from quieter firework displays compared to regular fireworks, we believe that any such display should not be held at a zoo as the use of any type of firework is incompatible with the welfare of their animals.

Some zoos that are planning to hold firework displays in their grounds this year have recently introduced new animals to their collections, such as Jimmy’s Farm in Suffolk. The zoo recently introduced a polar bear and several wolves, which they claim have been rescued from other zoos, so to subject them to the potential distress of a firework display, even if it is ‘low bang’, is just plain irresponsible. Born Free has spoken directly with Jimmy’s Farm and urged them to reconsider this event.

Born Free calls on all zoos to cancel any plans to hold firework displays in their grounds, and to ensure that they prioritise the welfare of their animals over short-term financial profit.

Please don’t support the suffering of wild animals in captivity by attending firework events at zoos. If you see such events being advertised at zoos and other captive animal facilities, please express your concerns to the organisers and urge them to reconsider.

If you visit a captive facility or attend an event which gives you cause for concern for the welfare of the animals, please report it via our Raise the Red Flag platform, which also provides guidance on what you can do to help.