Researchers accuse 29 certified European zoos of gross neglect

Dozens of zoos across Europe including in Britain have been accused of gross neglect by a charity after an 18-month investigation which unearthed thousands of apparent breaches of animal welfare standards.

The researchers visited 29 zoos and aquariums. They found, for example, elephants locked outside in the cold. Bears shut in concrete-walled enclosures. While dogs were stuck outdoors without bedding.

Fictional image of zoo bear in unsuitable enclosure
Fictional image of zoo bear in unsuitable enclosure. I feel that I need to stress the point that this is FICTIONAL. This is an image created by an artificial intelligence computer on my instructions to illustrate what it’s like for a bear to be in a concrete enclosure without an enriched environment on a damp floor. This is the kind of enclosure which zoo animals can encounter across the world. It’s meant to be illustrative of a problem in zoos but I stress it is a fictional image.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

The research was carried out by the animal conservation charity, based in Kent, UK, Aspinall Foundation. They focused on accredited zoos; those accredited by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria.

The accreditation acts as a solid gold standard with the intention of reassuring visitors that the animals are well cared for. The findings allege that the accreditation system is failing and falling well short of the required standards.

They allege that their research found more than 3000 breaches of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria’s guidelines. The worst affected animals were elephants followed by rhinoceroses, lions, tigers and giraffes.

In all 162 species of mammal were affected by bad welfare standards at zoos.

Chester Zoo was accused of having 12 breaches of standards while Colchester Zoo had 17 breaches of standards.

The Times cites an example of zebra, ostriches and rhinos being left outside at Colchester Zoo for six hours without adequate shelter.

In addition to the accreditation system, zoos have to submit to inspections for accreditation from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The UK is a member of this association.

The zoo with the worst record according to this research is Sosto Zoo in Hungary. There were a reported 418 breaches from the zoo. Ironically, the zoo is run by Endre Papp, the head of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria!

One example of an adequate animal welfare concerns spectacled bears in a concrete enclosure without shelter or bedding and little enrichment of their environment.

At several of the zoos there was inadequate drainage and the enclosures had become wet and muddy, clearly inappropriate for species such as lions which are used to very dry habitats.

And in violation of guidelines, the researchers allege that 10 zoos had locked elephants outside. In one example, an elephant calf was locked outside when the ambient temperature was -1°C.

A lot of the problems relate to the size of the enclosures and the lack of bedding and the lack of environmental enrichment. There are many examples.

Damian Aspinall, the chairman of the Aspinall Foundation accused the above-mentioned association (Eaza) of being “a pointless organisation”. This must be a reference to the fact that it simply isn’t working as a means of raising standards. He called for the association to reassess its effectiveness and to reassess the accreditation process in order to maintain basic standards.

In defence, Myfanwy Griffith, executive director of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria said:

“Very simply, this report fails to truthfully represent the aims and effectiveness of Eaza’s accreditation programme. This report shows a flawed understanding of animal welfare. Eazra is driven by the best science available. This report claims that Eaza does not help members zoos maintain adequate standards, whilst evidence shows this is untrue.”

She claims it is impossible to assess zoos from the perspective of visitors who only visited the place briefly. In defence they say that zoo managers had provided feedback which counteracted “most of the reported issues”.

And the owners of Chester Zoo said that the authors of the report “have made a host of erroneous assumptions based on a brief five and a half hour visit in 2021 during which they saw a mere fraction of our zoo and none of the behind-the-scenes areas that the animals have access to. Meanwhile, day in, day out we employ scientists, behaviourists, conservationists and teams with the cage of expertise.”

RELATED: Infographic on making zoos better places for big cats

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