“A Licence to Suffer”: Zoo report highlights how the law is failing animals in English zoos

Leading animal protection charity, The Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS), has launched a groundbreaking report which lays bare the apparent failure of the law to effectively protect animals held in zoos in England.

The charity, which campaigns against the keeping of animals in captivity, said that the report will shed new light on the oft-held belief that animals in zoos in the UK fare better than in other countries due to the strict legislative framework designed to ensure zoos meet minimum standards. The summary report, entitled “A Licence to Suffer” relates the main findings from a study carried out by independent consultant, Jordi Casamitjana, which examined the practical application of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and found a vast number of widespread and systemic problems which, the charity says, indicates that the system is not only not working, but is fundamentally unworkable.

The study, which encompassed a random sample of 75% of all zoos in England, used official zoo inspection reports completed by authorised inspectors as its data source to ensure an objective analysis. The results, said a charity spokesperson were “shocking”.

Findings included:

An average fully licensed zoo holds over 2,000 animals. Formal inspections should be carried out once every two or three years by qualified government inspectors. Usually lasting no more than one working day, this allows each animal a maximum of 36 seconds of the inspectors’ time. For the largest zoo in England, this is reduced to just 1.4 seconds.

Between 2005 and 2011:

At least 380 inspections have been missed altogether

74% of inspection reports used in the study identified recurring unsatisfactory issues

95% of zoos for which inspection reports were provided should have had legal enforcement action taken against them at some time between 2005 and 2011. Only two instances of the correct enforcement action were identified.


75% of most recent inspections found unsatisfactory issues that were not subsequently addressed

89% of most recent formal inspections identified apparent non-compliance with EC legislation for zoos

Said the charity’s Campaigns Director, Nicola O’Brien:

“Zoos are a divisive issue; many people share our view that these establishments have no place in today’s society yet others consider them a great day out. A whole host of people think that zoos are important for conservation but a growing number are seriously questioning the conservational and educational value of holding animals captive, not to mention the ethical considerations involved. However, something that a great number of people appear to believe is that, because the UK has some of the strictest legislation in the world for zoos, animals are provided with at least a minimum standard of care.

“Our ongoing monitoring work over the years has uncovered numerous examples of non-compliance with legal standards but we were shocked to discover the extent of the failings across the industry. We hope that this report will have a far-reaching effect in terms of both public awareness and also within the system itself. What is clear is that the current state of affairs is wholly unacceptable”.

Marc Bekoff, a patron of the charity, wrote in the foreword:

“These findings serve as an important reminder that the existence of rules and regulations has little meaning if coupled with a failure to ensure that they are followed. The old adage “rules are made to be broken” might spring to mind, but when the rules in question are the only safeguard of the wellbeing and welfare of many thousands of sentient, living, breathing creatures who cannot enforce those rules in their own right, this failure takes on a deeply disturbing character”.

Download reports: Click HERE to download the summary report (A Licence to Suffer) and click HERE to download the full study (Casamitjana, J. 2012. Inspecting Zoos: A study of the official zoo inspection system in England from 2005 to 2011. The Captive Animal’s Protection Society, Manchester)

GET THE REPORT ON KINDLE: A text version of the summary report is available to download to Kindle. Click HERE to deliver to your device.

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