UK zoos ILLEGALLY mutilating birds in their thousands, with backing of professional industry body

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A shocking new development in the ongoing ‘Fight for Flight’ campaign means CAPS can reveal that, not only are thousands of birds being mutilated by zoos, but that they have been maimed illegally by unqualified zoo staff. The news has been reported in national press this morning.

‘Pinioning’ is the practice of amputating the end of one wing of a newborn bird with a sharp pair of scissors – usually without any pain relief. As the birds grow they will be lop-sided and, as a result, will never be able to fly. This allows zoos and wildlife parks to keep flamingos and other exotic species in open-top enclosures – giving the misleading impression to visitors that the birds could fly away if they chose to. In fact these birds can never fly away nor can they ever be released to the wild.

Pinioning is formally recognised under the law as a ‘mutilation’ and is illegal if carried out on farmed birds and only legal for birds in zoos if carried out by a qualified vet or other person permitted under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. The campaign, which was launched over Easter, seeks to completely outlaw the practice and has been backed by a host of experts, celebrities and parliamentarians.

WWT Goose Illegal 2Following the launch of the campaign, CAPS continued to gather evidence on the extent of the practice and researchers were shocked to discover that, not only were thousands of birds being subjected to this mutilation, but that a number of zoos apparently thought themselves above the law and were carrying out the practice illegally. Rather than pay a qualified vet, as required by law, members of zoo staff were given responsibility for the maiming of birds’ wings. A spokesperson for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust confirmed this was the case in written correspondence with CAPS’ Director, saying:

“Our practitioners have many more years of experience in this specialist field than most vets so it is our practitioners who carry out the process

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Centres make up just five of the 208 licensed zoos in the country, but hold around 5,650 pinioned birds in these centres alone. This bold decision to dispense with vets may save the zoos money, but is illegal; a point CAPS and the Sunday Express confirmed with Government in the last few days. A Defra spokesperson said:

Wing-pinioning is veterinary surgery and can only be carried out by veterinary surgeons. If anyone has concerns that wing-pinioning is being carried out by unqualified people they should report them to their local authority to investigate”.

It is unclear at present whether legal action will be taken against the zoos as CAPS seeks advice from legal advisors and the relevant local authorities.

Further concerns have been raised that, not only have individual zoos apparently been carrying out the practice illegally for years, but this illegal action appeared to be supported by zoo industry body, BIAZA, who state in their formal guidance on the issue of pinioning, which is not available in the public domain, that:

“In the UK it is illegal for anyone who is not a veterinary surgeon to pinion a bird after it is ten days old”.

Elsewhere in the same document, BIAZA explicitly state that laypeople can carry out the procedure:

Pinioning of young birds uner [sic] 10 days old, must be undertaken only by competent operatives who are the owners or employees of owners…”

But, as confirmed by Government, regardless of the age of the bird there is no legal justification whatsoever for laypeople to carry out this practice under any circumstances in England.  Liz Tyson, Director of CAPS said:

“That the zoo industry deems the partial amputation of limbs as a legitimate means to hold thousands of birds captive is horrifying. But the fact that the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust have so brazenly confirmed that they are acting outside of the law and that they believe their staff know better than vets adds an even more sinister aspect to a practice which already defies justification. Add to this that BIAZA is advising its member zoos that this practice only requires a vet if the bird is older than ten days old suggests that this apparent defiance of the law might not be limited to just a few zoos but may span the entire industry. This means that many more thousands of birds may have had their wings severed by unqualified zoo staff”. 

Ms Tyson said CAPS were unaware whether BIAZA’s stance was as a result of  ignorance but called for the zoo body’s role in advising on any legal matters be brought under review. It was WWT Goose Illegalnoted that BIAZA worked in close collaboration with Government-commissioned researchers in the Defra assessment of the implementation of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 – a law regulating BIAZA’s own members. Ms Tyson added:

“BIAZA have historically played a role in advising and supporting government on areas surrounding the legislation which governs their own members – something which we believe presents a serious conflict of interest in itself. Our work clearly suggests that that BIAZA’s role as competent advisors on legal matters should be considered very carefully”.

Notwithstanding the legalities and illegalities of the practice, CAPS maintains that pinioning is inexcusable under any circumstances and must be abolished. The call has been echoed by others, including multi-award-winning writer/comedian, Ricky Gervais, who said:

“The idea of amputating part of an animal’s limb in order to keep it in captivity is unacceptable. I support the campaign to see this practice banned at the earliest opportunity”

Interior designer turned animal rights campaigner for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), Meg Mathews, said:

“I had visited wildlife reserves before and, I think like many people, did not think to question why the flamingos and other birds didn’t fly away. I perhaps assumed that they did and came back through choice. But, when I saw the photographs of these beautiful birds missing half a wing after being deliberately and permanently disabled, the reality really hit home. It opened my eyes and I had to speak out. This practice cannot continue. It must be stopped”.

Dr Andrew Kelly, Animal Welfare Consultant and former Head of Wildlife for the RSPCA offered his expert opinion:

“Pinioning is a cruel and unnecessary practice. It is a significant mutilation that has severe long-term consequences for the bird, depriving it of its most basic natural behaviour: the ability to fly.  In many cases, pinioning takes place between the age of 2 – 5 days old, often without anaesthesia or pain relief. In my opinion it is simply unethical to carry out this practice simply to keep a bird in captivity”.

Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon, Member of the House of Lords, said of the report’s findings:

“This is shocking.  Those who visit such centres and who genuinely want to admire these birds in a natural environment will be horrified and upset to learn how and why they are mutilated in this way”

A petition has been launched in opposition of pinioning and will be presented to the zoo industry and Government.

Join the ‘Fight for Flight’ campaign today to end this cruelty!

rotated FFFJoin CAPS in campaigning to see the cruel practice of pinioning – the mutilation of birds to keep them in captivity – banned in the UK.

Below are just some of the ways you can help. Please don’t delay – join us in the Fight for Flight!

SIGN the petition

READ the full report

WRITE to your MP to ask that they support the call to ban pinioning
Click the link and enter your postcode to find out who your MP is. Write to them to ask them to support this important campaign.

DONATE to the campaign today!Beangoose copy
Your donation today will help us to campaign at local and national levels to put an end to this cruelty.

CONTACT zoos to find out if they pinion birds
Pinioning is widespread but rarely talked about by the zoo industry. Get in touch with your local zoo to find out if they pinion birds. Ask them how many birds are subjected to this practice and let us know what you find out. Zoos for which we lack information can be found here.

BOYCOTT nature reserves, parks or other outdoor centres that hold captive wildlife
Some zoos promote themselves as nature reserves or other types of outdoor centre. If you are unsure whether a reserve or centre that you would like to visit holds captive animals, call ahead and find out. Let them know why you won’t be visiting if they do hold captive wildlife.

GET INVOLVED in peaceful demonstrations
Got a zoo near you? Get in touch with us to receive free campaigning literature to use on information stalls or demonstrations. We can help you organise your demo – just let us know if you need advice or help.


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