28th February 2022 Andrew Kelly, Director

Tayto Park, a theme park and zoo in County Meath, Ireland, announced recently that it will no longer be known as Tayto Park from the end of this year as its sponsorship deal with the potato crisp manufacturer comes to an end.

Opened in 2010, the park is Ireland’s sixth busiest visitor attraction with over 750,000 visitors each year. Visitors can enjoy the thrills and spills of the theme park rides before visiting the zoo to gawp at the hundreds of animals who face a lifetime of captivity to entertain the public. 

There appears to have been no real need for the zoo to have been built in the first place. The zoo will claim that it is a vital part of conservation efforts to protect endangered species and to be an opportunity to educate the public about the plight of animals in the wild. But the reality is that the zoo is merely an extension of the amusement park, with animals being used to entertain the crowds once the excitement of the roller coaster has worn off.

Tayto Park is not the only amusement park to add a zoo or aquarium to it’s site. Drayton Manor, Alton Towers and Flamingo Land are just a few. Chessington World of Adventures added a log flume which went through an enclosure holding tigers. 

Last week, Tatyo Park announced the arrival of a baby Goeldi’s monkey to ‘proud parents’ Rue and Rocco, as part of a breeding programme for this species which is classified as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This means that the species may be at risk of global extinction if action is not taken to protect them.

But does breeding animals like these monkeys in captivity really lower the risk of them going extinct in the wild or do cute baby monkeys simply increase the number of paying visitors? 

Sadly, this baby monkey and its parents will spend their entire lives in this or another zoo and will never be released to the wild in the western regions of the Amazon where they belong. The zoo also announced the arrival of a baby Sulawesi crested macaque and the pending arrival of baby ring-tailed lemurs, all of who will spend their entire lives caged at Tayto Park or sold on to other zoos to entertain humans. Baby monkeys are cute. Baby monkeys mean more visitors. More visitors in turn means more money. But how much of that money will be used to protect Goeldi’s monkeys (or any other animals) in the wild? The answer is – very little, if any. 

Con in conservation

Globally, zoos contribute a fraction of their income to in situ conservation projects and there is no evidence that members of the public receive any real education about the animals they see in the zoo. 

Tayto Park has a total of 24 species of mammals and 20 species of bird advertised on its website. Of these, 14 of the mammals (60%) and 12 of the birds (60%) are listed as species of ‘least concern’ by IUCN, meaning that they are not currently endangered or at risk of global extinction. 

Most of the species kept at Tayto Park are not endangered, so why are they there? To raise money for conservation perhaps? Well, no. According to Tayto Park’s website, they have contributed only €44,250 to wild cat conservation projects over a 10-year period – less that €5,000 a year.

In 2019 alone, Tayto Park’s income was a reported €18.8 million with a post-tax profit of €2.47 million. So in 2019, it contributed 0.02% of its income or 0.18% of its profits on big cat conservation in the wild. Apart from a further €34,500 donated to the Golden Eagle Trust for the reintroduction and monitoring of red kites to north County Dublin, again over a 10-year period, there is no other information about funding conservation projects on Tayto Park’s website. If they were funding other conservation projects, you would think they would be keen to tell us. If the zoo was serious about its conservation work, a much larger percentage of its profits would be donated to conservation projects in the wild.

Profits at Tayto Park fell by 82% in 2020 due to COVID, but the owners of the park have announced that they are to build a new roller coaster for €15.5 million – just think how much conservation work that could do!

Human entertainment

Tayto Park has a controversial history of attempting to attract visitors with ‘cute’ animals – in 2012 they attempted to import four white lions from South Africa without the appropriate CITES permits. They were eventually refused permission by the Irish government. White lions are not a true species, not even a sub-species. They are not albinos either, but genetic mutants all of which are descended from a small (normal tawny coloured) population in Timbavati, South Africa. Some lions in this population carry a recessive gene which results in some cubs being born white instead of the more common tawny colour. 

The lions that Tayto Park tried to import were bred on a commercial lion breeding farm – these animals are bred for sale and contribute nothing to conservation. Inbreeding has resulted in young cubs being born with significant health problems resulting in premature death.

Why did Tayto Park want to bring them to the zoo when there is no conservation value whatsoever? For the same reason circuses used to favour these white lions – they draw in the crowds. When asked if there was any conservation aspect to the purchase of the cubs, the park’s owner said that they would make a good attraction for the park, stating “I saw them in England and they looked amazing”. So nothing to do with conservation.

White lion cubs are expendable – when they die very young more are born to replace them and the public are continuously fooled into thinking this has something to do with conservation.

In reality zoos exist simply to entertain the public – that was their purpose when they were originally built in Victorian times when animals were snatched from the wild and transported around the world to be caged for the rest of their lives. None (or at least very few) of the animals, or their progeny will ever be released to the wild and they will spend their entire lives being gawped at by humans. 

Find out more about zoos and our work to free the animals they hold captive.