A shocking new report published by Born Free highlights that the majority of species found in the UK’s Consortium of Charitable Zoos (CCZ) are not classified as threatened species. It appears that these zoos have made little effort to adjust this imbalance since it was first identified by Born Free 15 years ago. The organisation is calling on the government to review the now 40-year-old Zoo Licensing Act (1981) to ensure more stringent and meaningful conservation criteria are required of zoos.
New research published today by leading wildlife charity BORN FREE shows the majority of species kept in charitable UK zoos aren’t threatened with extinction:
Only a quarter (26.6%) of species housed in Consortium of Charitable Zoos (CCZ) member organisations are threatened with extinction
Over half (52.4%) of species housed by CCZ members are categorised as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, including the two brown bears shot at Whipsnade last week
Only a third of species (35.4%) born at these zoos are classified as threatened
CCZ members house more domesticated animals (360) than animals from species which are categorised as Extinct in the Wild (64)
CCZ members have fewer species in European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) breeding programmes than they did 15 years ago (212 vs 218)
Will Travers OBE, stated: “The truth about zoos is hard to expose, as layers of self-justification wrap themselves around these institutions. Just how many species have been bred successfully in zoos and returned to the wild? And while an elephant enclosure containing a tiny number of often un-related individuals costs many millions, field conservationists are crying out for even a fraction of those resources to protect wild elephants and their habitats. Bluntly, the multi-billion-pound zoo world promises much but delivers very, very little.”
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) has stated that without government action “organisations [BIAZA members] could close for good” due to the pandemic, and headlines have warned that “species could face extinction”. But would they? Born Free’s new report (Conservation or Collection? Evaluating the conservation status of species housed and bred in charitable UK zoos) clearly shows that such claims are, at best, grossly exaggerated.
The minority of species found in CCZ zoos are threatened with extinction, and the majority are on the lowest rung of the IUCN list – the category of Least Concern – including the two European brown bears tragically shot at Whipsnade Zoo on Friday the 21st May 2021. Astoundingly, CCZ zoos housed more domesticated animals (360) than animals belonging to species classed as Extinct in the Wild (64) for whom, you might have thought, conservation is the highest priority.
Born Free is calling on the government to review the now 40-year-old Zoo Licensing Act (1981) to ensure more stringent and meaningful conservation criteria are required of zoos, criteria that are transparent, measurable and in the public domain, and against which zoos can be held to account, both for their implementation and for meeting stated targets. This would require specific follow-up actions by zoos to demonstrate real conservation benefits which should meet at least three of the five conservation measures set out in the Zoo Licensing Act (1981) in order to meet their conservation obligations. Currently, zoos only need to fulfil one of the five.
While zoos do not claim to house only threatened species, they do use ambiguous terms when describing their animals, such as, ’rare‘, ’rarest‘, and ’extraordinary’. The fact that threatened species are in the minority suggests a species selection process which is focused more on species that are perceived to be attractive to the public, rather than those which are threatened and might benefit from being managed outside their natural habitat for conservation purposes(known as ex-situ breeding).
“Claims by zoos that they contribute to species conservation and public education require careful scrutiny and cannot be taken at face value as justifications for the keeping and breeding of wild animals in captivity. We challenge the zoo industry to live up to its conservation claims and we continue to lobby for policy change in the UK”. Chris Lewis, Captivity Research, Born Free Foundation
“Born Free’s forensic analysis clearly demonstrates that the great majority of species housed in some of the UK’s best-known zoos are not classified as threatened. Far from focusing on species of Conservation Concern, for which captive breeding has been identified as a conservation priority, these zoos - which self-identify as amongst the best - appear to be more intent on keeping species that they hope will attract the public, a situation that hasn’t changed for over 15 years. Our report raises serious questions about the conservation credentials and commitment of some of Britain’s best-known zoos. It’s time for a radical rethink!” said Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy, Born Free Foundation