10th October 2022

Animals held captive in zoos are confined to a life of boredom across the UK and beyond, in enclosures and cages far too insignificant to replicate the large-scale, natural environments they would be free to roam and explore in the wild. So it’s not surprising that many of these animals find new ways to entertain themselves, or seek freedom from their mundane existence, by escaping their prisons and roaming further afield - putting themselves and others at risk and in harm's way.

In our recent email appeal, Freedom for Animals shared the devastating tale of Oscar, a spider monkey held at Belfast Zoo. Oscar escaped his enclosure in 2018 and was subsequently fatally hit by a vehicle on the M2. His craving for freedom was so strong, he braved the unknown, leaving behind his companions in his enclosure and scaling a live electric fence, to try and find a place he could finally feel more at home. But, heartbreakingly, we know this was never possible for Oscar. The zoo would never have released him to a place he could feel truly free - the rainforests of South America. He, and countless other individuals and species housed across zoo establishments, are destined for a life of imprisonment, never feeling the air or climate of their natural habitat, and never experiencing true freedom.

Seventeen animals have escaped Belfast zoo in particular over the years, including a ring-tailed lemur who was devastatingly found dead 1.5miles from the zoo in 2008; and Rosie and Zoid - two lion tailed macaques - who, in 2015, escaped their enclosure and, although recaptured less than a month later, Belfast zoo claims to still have no knowledge as to how they got out. After all these worrying occurrences, shockingly, in 2019, a chimpanzee was seen wandering one of the zoo paths whilst visitors were present - the second zoo breach by an animal within three weeks of its occurrence. This level of negligence is unacceptable when the lives of so many are at risk.

Belfast Zoo is not the only culprit

In 2021, two brown bears - Snow White and Sleeping Beauty - were shot dead at Whipsnade Zoo after a fallen tree had allowed passage for them into the neighbouring wild boar enclosure. Zoo officials made the decision to kill as the bears “posed an immediate threat to human life”. These incredible animals were cruelly punished for being forced to live in environments too close to humans, and because of Whipsnade Zoo’s own failings to provide suitable enclosures that meet the basic requirements for the safety of animals, and people. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty paid the ultimate price for curiosity and exploration, losing their lives for simply wanting to travel further than the fencing that tried to stifle that natural desire for freedom. 

Shooting of escaped animals is common practice

There are countless cases of scared and frightened individuals being killed as a result of zoos failing to provide adequate safety measures. Margaash, a snow leopard from Dudley Zoo was shot dead in 2018 after a keeper left his prison gate open. He was persuaded to return to his enclosure, but his will for freedom meant he refused and lost his life as a result. Lilith the lynx who escaped from Borth Zoo in 2017 was also shot dead in a caravan park due to zoo negligence. And at the notorious South Lakes Zoo, a rare white rhino escaped their enclosure, ran into a car park and fell down a nearby ditch, where she was shot by keepers. The neglect these zoos show animals should never result in the loss of their life. How unfair that these beautiful individuals should be made to pay for human error and entertainment? They are victims in a system of abuse.

Public safety disaster

And not only do zoos lack of care affect the animals held captive there, they also put the public at risk, by allowing escaped animals to flee their environment and end up in busy cities or suburbs where many situations could pose a threat to all involved; such as road traffic accidents, or unexpected attacks due to fear or surprise. For instance, in 2008, an escaped cheetah from Hamerton Zoo in Cambridgeshire, came face-to-face with a nine year old boy on his drive. Luckily no-one was hurt on that occasion, but the risk of a terrible outcome occurring for both human and animal life was severely high. And in 2022, a wallaby called Ant escaped from ‘Tiny Steps Petting Farm’ in Lincolnshire, evading capture for weeks on end and risking being run over from passing cars.

The owner stated to the press how he was “obviously enjoying his freedom”. Of course animals do not desire to be put back into enclosures where they don’t get the same level of space and exploration they would in the wild. They are forced to endure captivity. They do not relish it, as many establishments would try and have the public believe. 

Small scale businesses, large scale issue

And it’s not just larger zoos at blame, many privately owned, small scale establishments are also complicit in the issue. In 2018, a leopard escaped from a private zoo in Cornwall, causing many neighbours to fear for their safety. Flamingos have also previously roamed away from their captive habitats at the establishment; proving the enclosures are unsafe for both the animals forced to live there, and people residing in the near vicinity.

A study into the growing sightings of wild and exotic animals - undertaken by Beastwatch UK -  showed that there are more wild animals on the loose than ever before, mainly due to zoo thefts and animal escapes. Animal sightings in the UK since 2000 include 51 wallabies, 43 snakes, 15 owls, 13 dangerous spiders, 13 raccoons, 10 crocodiles, 7 wolves, 4 eagles, and 3 pandas, as well as numerous sightings of penguins, wild boars and big cats. Not only do they put natural biodiversity at risk, they must learn to adapt to environments that are often not natural to them, putting them at risk of disease and illness.

The cases of animals taking matters into their own hands, and escaping their captive environment in a bid for freedom, is vast.

No animal should feel as though they need to put themselves at risk to escape their unhappiness. No animal should be imprisoned and deprived of freedom. 

Please will you make a donation today to make sure we can keep exposing zoo failings? Will you help us show that the government needs to seriously look at the future of zoos and the animals held captive within them?


We may be up against a lot but you can make change happen. The actions of people like you have helped so many animals escape from places of misery, and have helped to slowly chip away at this industry.

It might be too late for Oscar and the other animals who have already died. But we can, and we must, keep fighting to protect animals from this awful fate.

It is clear the system isn’t doing enough to protect them. So together, we must.  

- 13th September 2022