Zoos – a matter of public trust

New report reveals shocking failings among EAZA-accredited zoos.

A group of elephants walking around a muddy and cold-looking enclosure

© Aaron Gekoski

Born Free is shocked and dismayed by the recent investigation by the Aspinall Foundation, which has uncovered significant failings by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) to maintain and enforce even basic levels of animal welfare within its accredited member zoos. 

Reported by The Times, the investigation details evaluations of 29 EAZA member zoos across 12 European countries, assessed against the Animal Care and Safety & Security sections of EAZA’s own Standards for the Accommodation and Care of Animals in Zoos and Aquaria (hereon ‘the Standards’). The research claims to have identified over 3,000 breaches of the Standards, affecting 162 different species.

Overall, the findings challenge the credibility of EAZA’s claim that its accreditation system “ensures that EAZA Accredited Members reach EAZA’s Standards of Accommodation and Care of Animals in Zoos and Aquaria”.

Importantly, Chester Zoo, which recently voted in favour of more stringent and frequent inspections by EAZA, as reported in The Times, clearly seems to acknowledge that the current inspection system is not fit for purpose. Born Free calls on EAZA to make public the results of that vote. Either EAZA, as a whole, recognises that there is a need for change or, if the vote did not pass, is this a sign that EAZA will continue to sweep these distressing issues under the carpet?

While the findings are shocking in and of themselves, Born Free is also deeply disappointed by the reaction of EAZA to the investigation and their apparent refusal to acknowledge any of the 3,074 welfare issues identified at its member zoos. EAZA documents clearly state that full membership is granted to a zoo or aquarium “that maintains suitable standards of management and animal husbandry and complies with all other EAZA Standards”, and that compliance with the standards is monitored through accreditation inspections.  Yet this report highlights how numerous EAZA member zoos appear to be failing to adhere to these mandatory Standards, including zoos where EAZA committee members are located.

The investigation raises deep concerns about EAZA’s ability to guarantee suitable animal care provision in its member zoos or instil public confidence in its ability to enforce and uphold its own Standards.  The report reveals shocking evidence of a group of lions who were marooned on a small platform when their enclosure had turned into a muddy, waterlogged bog; while elephants were repeatedly found to be shut outside in cold conditions, including at Chester Zoo, in contravention of EAZA’s own guidelines.

Elephants were also the species associated with highest number of identified breaches of the Standards, highlighting once again that the needs of elephants cannot be met in current zoo environments. Born Free continues to call for the phasing out of elephants in European zoos.


At an EU level, these findings also raise serious questions about the effectiveness of the EU Zoos Directive in ensuring national legislation is in place to guarantee high standards of animal husbandry and care within zoos. A recent review of the EU Zoos Directive only included a subset of EU Member States, but still identified that the most common breaches related to animal accommodation and husbandry, and that inspection procedures varied in their level of scrutiny and the expertise of inspectors.

Born Free emphasises the damning conclusions of the Aspinall Foundation investigation, coming as it does from within the zoo industry itself, and urges EAZA to undertake an urgent and thorough review of its current inspection procedures, and the welfare standards at all its member zoos. Additionally, we call on the European Commission to commit to a comprehensive review of zoo licensing and inspection in all EU Member States to establish a robust and consistent process across the EU which meets the intended aims of the EU Zoos Directive.

Will Travers OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder & Executive President, said: “Trust is incredibly important. The general public should be able to trust that if a zoo is accredited with EAZA it adheres to the highest standards of animal welfare, conservation, education, and public safety. This investigation profoundly challenges that notion of trust. If, as has been demonstrated, despite EAZA accreditation, standards are not close to where they should be then I would urge those who might be considering visiting an EAZA zoo and who want to support effective conservation and the protection of biodiversity to offer their support elsewhere. And when it comes to animal welfare, they should trust true animal sanctuaries accredited with the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. I am personally shocked by what the Aspinall Foundation’s report has revealed. It’s time for change.”