Drusillas Zoo in Sussex has been exposed for using false information about the conservation status of its captive animals. 

The zoo, which is a member of zoo industry body, BIAZA, claims that “many of the animals at Drusillas are involved in breeding programmes… to ensure the future survival of a species”; implying that the animals kept there are under threat. Indeed, each species of animal kept at the zoo has an information page on the business’ website given over to it which lists basic information, including that species’ conservation status.

Drusillas uses three categories to define conservation status: “common”, “rare” or “endangered”. This does not appear to correspond with any recognised system of classification with only “endangered” being a status used by the IUCN (the accepted authority on classification on threats to animal species).

Drusillas Zoo claims that the Bolivian squirrel monkeys in their care are endangered. The IUCN class them as “least concern” for conservation.

Despite the zoo apparently inventing its own system to gauge conservation status, Freedom for Animals' researchers were surprised to see a total of 20 species classed by the zoo as “endangered” on its website when only six of these animals are, in fact, endangered in the wild. Of the 27 species which Drusillas claims are “endangered” or “rare”, 10 are not threatened in the wild at all.

41 of the total 58 species of animal held by the zoo belong to non-threatened species or are domesticated animal species that are unclassified for conservation purposes.

Said Freedom for Animals Director:

“Zoos often claim that their work is essential in order to protect endangered species but the majority of animals held in zoos belong to species that are not threatened in the wild. What is particularly concerning here is that a zoo which has a legal obligation to engage in educational work surrounding conservation has claimed that a large number of the animals in its care belong to endangered species when, in fact, many are not under threat.  This is basic information and there is no excuse for zoos getting it wrong”.

Government standards for zoos demand that: “Accurate information about the species exhibited must be available. Generally, this should include, as a minimum, the species name (both scientific and common), its natural habitat and some of its biological characteristics and details of its conservation status”.

“It is unclear whether the multiple inaccuracies are as a result of a lack of knowledge on the part of the zoo staff, or a deliberate attempt to mislead the public over the zoo’s work with endangered species. Given that the zoo offers educational courses, it raises serious queries over the accuracy of what visitors and children are being taught”.

A 2010 study commissioned by Government department, DEFRA, concluded that there were “concerns … with regard to the lack of available evidence about the effectiveness of [conservation and education] projects” carried out by zoos.

UPDATE

Trading Standards agreed with Freedom for Animals that the information needed amending and told the zoo to fix its misleading statements. One year on and the zoo had still failed to make these very basic changes.

Upon contacting Trading Standards again to follow up the concerns, our researchers were told that the zoo has now issued a statement explaining their system of classification and were not going to change the information published.

In its somewhat bizarre statement, the zoo claimed that its visitors simply could not understand the globally recognised classification system used by the IUCN to gauge the conservation threat faced by animals in their natural habitat and so had made up their own system. Unfortunately for visitors to Drusillas, the system appears to follow no rationale and bears little to no relation to the true conservation status of the animals held by the zoo.