Virginia McKenna, the actress and wildlife campaigner, and the founder of the Born Free Foundation is calling for the introduction of a national zoo inspectorate in Britain.
In the USA, I understand, that there is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an organisation which accredits zoos and thereby helping to raise and maintain standards of animal welfare.
However, in America, AZA have 232 accredited zoos and there are, we are told, around 2,400 animal exhibitors in the country.
Virginia McKenna’s desire for a national zoo inspectorate arises out of the recent outcry over the fate of animals at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Ulverston, Cumbria, which was refused a licence this month after almost 500 animals died in less than three years.
It was a scandal and it is the kind of situation which demands the raising of standards by a national inspectorate. Such an inspectorate would be centralised and its objective will be to ensure consistency in licensing and inspections.
At present, zoo licensing is handled by local authorities. Many of the authorities lack the resources to ensure that zoos maintain high standards.
Virginia McKenna, now 85 years of age, said:
“We have fought tirelessly for 33 years for the millions of neglected, overlooked, unprotected, and mistreated wild animals kept in zoos, travelling circuses and as “pets”. Yet significant problems remain on our doorstep here in the UK: it still remains legal to purchase and keep wild animals as pets, to repeatedly transport them for performance in travelling circuses, and it is shockingly clear that many zoos in the UK are substandard, failing to meet even meagre legal minimum requirements. Governments have the power to change this and they must take these issues seriously.”
The Born Free Foundation says that tens of thousands of exotic pets are kept by private individuals in the UK. They are ill-equipped both in terms of facilities and knowledge to look after exotic pets.
In addition, the Foundation wants the government to fulfil its manifesto pledge to ban wild animals in travelling circuses. Further, they are calling for a ban on selling or keeping of primates as pets and the ban on the importation, sale and the keeping of wild-caught mammals, reptiles and amphibians as pets.
Of course, I wholeheartedly agree with these thoughts. My feelings are stronger in that I would ban zoos and focus all our energies on trying to protect and conserve wild animals in their natural habitats. The UK probably has a decent reputation regarding its zoos but clearly there is work to do. This highlights the sometimes deplorable conditions under which animals are kept at some zoos in some developing nations.
Source: The Times (hard copy)