More than half of Britain’s zoos and wildlife parks are falling short of animal welfare standards – and inspections also leave a lot to be desired.
That is the damning verdict of researchers from the Born Free Foundation and Bristol University who picked apart every report completed by Government-appointed zoo inspectors.
They found that less than a quarter of the 192 licensed zoos, wildlife parks, birds of prey centres and aquariums met all the standards, and more than half failed on two or more criteria on animal healthcare.
They found that inspectors had noted that nearly a quarter of zoos did not appear to have established and maintained proper vet care, and a quarter had not met one or more of the standards about providing proper food and water for the animals.
The researchers, who have called for more rigorous inspections and tighter controls, said farm parks with wild animals and bird collections ‘appeared to be performing particularly poorly’.
But as well as finding evidence of poor animal welfare, some inspectors failed to take any action.
Zoos and wildlife parks only have to renew their licence every six years and inspectors only visit every three or four years. The study also raised ‘serious concerns about the quality’ of those inspections, Will Travers, the chief executive of Born Free Foundation, said.
“Inspections of all but one of the zoos assessed were carried out in a single day, even though their size and complexity varied enormously, from facilities with a handful of species and individual animals to collections with 2,800 individual wild mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians from 300 species,” he said.
The study found that on seven per cent of occasions, the same inspector visited more than one zoo in a single day, and one in nine inspections were not carried out by the correct number of inspectors.
“After nearly 30 years of licensing and regulation the public have a right to expect that zoos will not just meet but in many respects exceed the minimum standards required of them by law,” he said.
“The public also have a right to expect that Government-appointed Zoo Inspectors have the relevant expertise to carry out inspections ensuring that the welfare of the animals and the safety of visitors are guaranteed.”
The report makes a number of recommendations, including the introduction of independent auditing, amendments to how findings are reported and more rigorous inspections.
“I am greatly disappointed to discover that so many zoos in Britain, often held up as leaders in Europe, appear to be performing so poorly,” he added.
“The Born Free Foundation is calling on the Government-appointed Zoos Expert Committee and the relevant authorities to consider this new evidence and bring forward urgent new measures to ensure that all licensed zoos are meeting their legal and moral obligations,” he said.