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News on Zoos: much more must be done to enforce EU welfare standards

April 2, 2012 5:25 PM
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

As zoos and wild parks across the East Midlands prepare for the summer season, a new report will today be launched on how English zoos are implementing EU rules on animal welfare, biodiversity and conservation.

The Born Free Foundation has conducted comparative studies of 200 zoos in 20 EU Member States to see how these countries have implemented the 2005 law and how they ensure that these rules are properly enforced.

The report on the 25 randomly selected zoos in England highlights that there is still much work to be done to improve living conditions for animals and properly educate and inform the visiting public on conservation and biodiversity issues..

East Midlands Lib Dem MEP Bill Newton Dunn commented:

"It is encouraging to learn that England has been taking a lead in implementing EU rules on zoos compared to many other countries across Europe. But the Born Free Foundation report clearly shows that much more can and must be done to raise the standards of many of our zoos in terms of better living conditions for animals but also with regard to education and conservation.

"There is a real case for facilitating the exchange of best practices amongst our own zoos but also across Europe. I am interested to learn more about what zoos in the East Midlands are doing to implement welfare standards and engage with the public on conservation and biodiversity issues.

"At the end of April, the Liberal and Democrat Group in the European Parliament will hold a public hearing with the Commission on the EU Zoos Directive and I will myself host a week-long exhibition of Born Free's evidence from different EU countries. It will be good to share some best practice examples from zoos in the East Midlands with colleagues from other EU Member States."

Daniel Turner, author of the Report and spokesperson for the Born Free Foundation commented:

"Born Free and European associates are working with Euro-MPs and the European Commission to seek solutions to address the Europe-wide failure of zoos to adequately protect the world's biodiversity. We must all work together in the interests of the animals to ensure their better welfare. This may require some tough decisions, such as whether zoos can suitably keep wide-ranging species or continue in any significant measure to conserve global biodiversity But what is clear, English (and European) zoos must start to meet the public's expectations and take responsibility for the care of their animals."

Of the 25 English zoos assessed for this report (listed below), The Jungle Zoo, North East Lincolnshire, is in the East Midlands.

The exhibition hosted by Bill Newton Dunn highlighting the findings of the EU Zoo Inquiry takes place in the European Parliament from 24th to 27th April.

Findings of the ENGLAND zoo report - as part of the EU ZOO INQUIRY 2011

Implementation:

The accuracy of centrally-held zoo database is in doubt. National authority records list 300 zoos in 168 Local Authorities in England, whilst the Born Free Foundation maintains an annually-updated record of 500 zoos in 222 English Local Authorities.

Enforcement:

The quality and regularity of both Formal and Informal zoo inspections needs further analysis by the national authorities. Numerous investigations have identified that there is inconsistent and ineffective enforcement of the Zoo Licensing Act (ZLA) in England.

Despite a concerted effort by Defra to support and advise Local Authorities in the implementation and enforcement of the ZLA, it is questionable as to whether Local Authorities have the time, funding and expertise to ensure effective application of zoo legislation in England.

Compliance by zoos:

Overall, the findings of this investigation indicate that licensed zoos in England are not fully compliant with the ZLA. Some zoos meet the majority of requirements whilst others are substandard in numerous respects such as inappropriate living conditions for animals and a minimal commitment to the conservation of biodiversity.

Overall, English zoos are making an insignificant contribution to the conservation of Threatened and 'conservation-sensitive' species (Annex D, Standards of Modern Zoo Practice ('SMZP')) and scientific research that benefits conservation. Of the 1,084 species observed at the England zoos, 185 (17%) were Threatened, with 0.37% Extinct in the Wild. 60% of the zoos were not contributing to scientific research and of those that were, much of this does not aid the conservation of the species.

The findings confirmed that 20 of the 25 zoos assessed as part of the EU Zoo Inquiry 2011 were implementing an educational strategy although: 72% of species information signage and commentary in animal presentations across the 25 zoos failed to include information about species conservation; many also failed to provide a positive educational message (SMZP). The public were encouraged to touch and hold a variety of animals such as reptiles, tapir, meerkats, penguins, etc.

Despite being discouraged by Standards of Modern Zoo Practice (SMZP) and HSE Managing Health and Safety in Zoos, 21 of the 25 zoos encouraged direct contact between the public and animals. Concerns were raised about associated risks of injury and disease transmission.

Environmental enrichment was marginal at the assessed zoos. Whilst the enclosures usually contained fixed furnishings, the provision of species-appropriate stimuli that promote behavioural and mental activities, were often absent.