A new study carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol and the Born Free Foundation has found only 22 out of the 136 zoos in England, Wales and Scotland have been assessed as meeting all animal welfare standards at consecutive inspections.
Researchers analysed reports completed by Government-appointed inspectors at the 136 licensed zoos across Britain between 2005-2011, to assess how well they complied with minimum animal welfare standards.
The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 requires zoos to meet minimum standards in animal welfare, conservation and education. Inspectors assess whether zoos comply with these standards every three to four years.
The key findings of the study, published in the journal Animals, reveal:
– 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, such as 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.
According to the study, there was “no conclusive evidence” suggesting there was an overall improvement in levels of compliance by British zoos over the period. The data also suggests 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 only 27% of the licensed premises were assessed as meeting all the required animal welfare standards.
Chief executive of the Born Free Foundation Will Travers said the study’s findings highlight a need to not forget “what is happening on our own doorstep” as poor welfare in zoos is often seen as a problem in other countries.
“It is very concerning to see the range of problems that still afflict British zoos and their animals, and to discover so many are failing to meet, let alone exceed, minimum animal welfare standards,” he said. “It seems 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.”
Born Free said it is calling on the Government-appointed Zoos Expert Committee and the relevant licensing authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to consider the study and bring forward measures to ensure licensed zoos are “meeting their legal and moral obligations to the animals in their care and to the paying public”.