Six penguins recently died from a malaria outbreak at the London Zoo. The sad news comes on the heels of a ground-breaking new study that reports three-quarters of British zoos, aquariums, petting farms and sanctuaries do not meet all of the basic animal welfare standards to protect animals and the public.
Researchers from the Born Free Foundation and the University of Bristol reviewed reports completed by government-appointed zoo inspectors of 192 licensed zoos and other animal facilities. The study is the first time anyone has analyzed the inspections since the Zoo Licensing Act went into effect in 1984. The law requires zoos in England, Wales and Scotland to meet minimum standards for animal care, conservation, safety and more.
The findings were quite shocking with 76 percent of zoos breaking at least one basic requirement regarding health, housing or how animals were treated. Nearly half of the facilities did not meet at least two of the minimum requirements. One zoo failed to meet almost half of the 40 basic standards, which included clean water for the animals and sufficient space and shelter.
Here are the key findings stated in the study:
* Only 47 zoos (24%) were assessed as meeting all the animal welfare standards.
* 47% of zoos were assessed as not meeting two or more of the criteria relating to the provision of animal health care.
* Nearly a quarter of zoos did not appear to have established and maintained a satisfactory programme of preventative and curative veterinary care.
* 25% of zoos were assessed as not meeting one or more of the standards relating to the provision of food and water.
* 24% of zoos were reported as failing to comply with Conditions (improvement orders) imposed at the previous inspection.
* Farm parks with wild animals and bird collections in particular appeared to be performing particularly poorly.
* One zoo was assessed as failing to meet nearly half of all animal welfare standards.
Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, said, “After nearly 30 years of licensing and regulation the public have a right to expect that zoos in England, Wales and Scotland will not just meet but in many respects exceed the minimum standards required of them by law.”
“I am greatly disappointed to discover that so many zoos in Britain, which are often held up as industry leaders in Europe, appear to be performing so badly in terms of animal welfare,” continued Travers. “If you think of a zoo, the chances are it was in the study.”
Zoos are issued a new license every six years and receive onsite inspections every three to four years. The study found that inspectors were plowing through their assessments of entire zoos in a single day, even though the facilities varied greatly in size and the number of species of animals. A zoo with 2,800 individual wild animals received the same attention as an institution with only 300 animals.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums argued that they have been steadily making changes to their inspection system since 2008 and believe the system will continue to improve. The Born Free Foundation is calling for a government-appointed Zoos Expert Committee to be formed to oversee the inspection process.
Meanwhile zookeepers at the London Zoo said the penguins that died were exposed to an avian strain of malaria caused by mosquitoes and an increase in wet weather. They said they had given the birds anti-malaria medicine, but penguins are very susceptible to the disease. A representative said, “Generally where they live is cold and windy so they don’t get infected very often in their native conditions. In zoos it is quite likely that mosquitoes will be around, especially when, like this year, conditions are wet and there’s lots of things for them to bite.”
Photo Credit: pablokdc