The recent closure of Orsa Predator Park in Sweden - a zoo which has recently stated that they will destroy any animals they cannot relocate in time - has highlighted the serious issue of how struggling zoos so often fatally decide on imprisoned animals’ fates.

Killing animals due to mismanagement and a lack of contingency planning when financial problems arise is completely unacceptable, and highlights the terrible lack of respect zoos show to animals they have imprisoned against their will and claim to care for.

This devastating situation has shone yet more light on the disturbing and unethical practices so often used by the zoo industry in reaction to a problem - in this case, low profits. Ending animals’ lives for any reasons other than untreatable ill health is an inhumane and unacceptable solution, but for economic reasons it is truly shocking, and sadly all too common. It is a method even approved by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) as a suitable way to deal with issues such as overbreeding, population management, financial reasons, and as a way to protect genetic diversity in captive environments. 

How can the solution be to kill animals rather than providing them with proper care, and relocating them to more suitable locations such as accredited sanctuaries, or getting them prepared for release via in-situ conservation facilities? Surely if conservation is claimed as the zoo industry's main aim, this should be an approach they have already considered possible?   

There is an urgent need for comprehensive contingency plans to be put in place when disastrous situations such as these occur. Zoos must be prepared for unforeseen circumstances, including financial challenges, and have a plan in place to safeguard the animals. These plans should include the options above (relocating animals to accredited sanctuaries, or rehabilitating them for release), as well as ensuring that their well-being is maintained, and should not include any so-called solution that would result in their untimely death. This tragic approach not only disregards the fundamental ethical responsibility of zoos to care for the animals they forcibly hold captive, but also demonstrates a lack of respect for their precious lives. 

For such plans to be successful there would need to be open cooperation between zoos, animal protection organisations, and government authorities to ensure a safety net for animals in case of financial difficulties or other emergencies; and the breeding of animals in captivity must immediately cease. 

A lack of space cannot be deemed an appropriate excuse for their death, and if the zoo industry has no intention of truly helping species survive in their natural habitats, or supporting wild populations, why are they holding thousands upon thousands of individuals prisoner? 

In the case of Orsa Predator Park, the zoo has so far sent two polar bears and a brown bear to two different private zoos in the UK, but devastatingly the two year old polar bear cub, Miki, died during the stressful journey, leaving his mother Ewa alone and grieving her son’s untimely death. Freedom for Animals's director, Dr Andrew Kelly, was approached for comment on the terrible ordeal, and the full article can be viewed here. 

Moving these vulnerable animals across such long distances and forcing them to endure traumatic journeys to other zoos, and in this case to much smaller enclosures, is a last minute action very often utilised by zoos, as part of a somewhat desperate effort to save some animals from being destroyed in these situations. But again this is unacceptable, and does not solve the systemic issue of animals being traded and swapped as if they were objects, and continuing to be used as exhibits to sell tickets to visitors for profit. 

With that all said, a final question must be asked - how can local authorities even consider allowing any new zoos to be approved today or in the future, when so many are already failing and resulting in healthy individuals being killed unnecessarily? 

Rather than authorising new zoos, there should be a focus on creating and supporting accredited animal sanctuaries, and investing in the many in-situ conservation projects that actually work to protect animals’ natural habitats. To allow for this ethical shift, zoos must cease the breeding of animals, and adapt to follow a true sanctuary model, so they can become safe havens where animals' lives are valued in their own right, not marketed and used for profit.

We have been campaigning against a new zoo in Trowell, Nottinghamshire that is being mismarketed as a “sanctuary”. The marketing material for the plans state they will be part of the EAZA breeding program, and visitors will be able to stay in guest cabins and make use of a spa and restaurant on site. There should be no new zoos popping up in 2023, and we must ensure the plans do not go ahead. If they are accepted, many more animals will suffer in captivity, and the council runs the very real risk of being faced with how to deal with hundreds of animals' lives if it closes down in the future, just as Orsa Predator Park has done. 


Help us stop another zoo opening!

Sign the petition here

Object to the plans here