16th July 2019

Tether and Torment: FAQ

Since the release of our newest campaign, Tether & Torment, we’ve heard a lot of questions and comments about falconry, birds of prey, and animal captivity in general that we’d like to address in this article. 

Why are you calling bird of prey centres ‘zoos’?

‘A zoo is defined as any establishment where animals of wild species are exhibited to the public’ – Zoo Licensing Act 1981. Birds of prey are wild species, as listed under the ZLA 1981 and so any centre which houses birds of prey, has them on display for the public and is open for 7 or more days a year, we believe fall under the definition of a zoo. Just because a centre only displays birds of prey does not mean it is not a zoo. 

The definition for a zoo is as follows:

                ‘an establishment where wild animals (as defined by section 21) are kept for exhibition to the public otherwise than for purposes of a circus (as so defined) and otherwise than in a pet shop (as so defined); and this Act applies to any zoo to which members of the public have access, with or without charge for admission, on more than seven days in any period of 12 consecutive months.’

What’s the difference between a bird of prey zoo and a sanctuary?

A sanctuary is an establishment that houses animals, usually rescued and unable to be released into the wild for one reason or another, that does not breed them or exploit them for profit, but rather provides care to them for the rest of their lives. Some sanctuaries exist to rehabilitate animals who come in injured or in need, to release back into the wild. Sanctuaries aim to put themselves out of business - they do not want to keep animals captive, but right now there are many animals in need of sanctuary and care so do the very best they can for them. 

What about bird of prey centres that rescue birds from the wild?

Some bird of prey centres might rescue birds from the wild, and some will likely successfully release these birds back into the wild too, which is fantastic. What we don’t find fantastic though, is centres that rescue birds and then exploit them for profit, and display them to the public never again to be free in the wild.  

Most birds in bird of prey zoos are captive bred, not ‘wild’ animals.

Captive bred or not, birds of prey are still classed as ‘wild’ animals and are recognised as so under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. This means that they are not domesticated, despite regular ‘use’ by humans. Captive wild animals still have the same instincts and needs as their wild counterparts and deserve to live free in the wild too.

Isn’t tethering birds the same as having a dog on a leash – for their own safety?

Although falconers might argue that tethering birds is for their own safety, the reality is that they are tethered to stop them flying away. Our investigation saw lots of birds ‘bating’ – trying to escape their tethers, desperately trying to fly away from the unnatural environment they were forced to be in – tied down to entertain the public. Most people would be horrified if a dog was tethered all day.

Why aren’t you campaigning against tethered horses, pet birds in cages, and fish in tanks?

We completely agree that these are valid issues that need to be talked about. Horses shouldn’t be tethered, birds shouldn’t be kept in cages in peoples’ homes, nor fish in tanks! We mostly campaign against the use of animals as entertainment, which is a category that aquaria do fall in to, and an industry we actively campaign against.

What do you think falconers should do with the birds of prey already in their care that can’t be released into the wild?

Stop tethering these birds, and move them into more suitable accommodation. Birds should not be used for the purposes of entertainment and a way of making money. End breeding and become a true sanctuary for animals in need. 

What about all the work done by falconry centres for endangered birds? 

Although some wild animals have been reintroduced from captivity into the wild, the vast majority of animals kept in captivity are not endangered and are simply there to sell tickets. This was highlighted within the report, by the high numbers of birds kept that are classed as least concern in the IUCN Red List of Threatened species. We believe that conservation efforts need to focus on in-situ conservation, protecting the habitat and erasing the threats to wild animals.

Some birds are ‘imprinted’ and rely on humans to look after them. 

We uncovered the tactic of ‘imprinting’ birds in our report. Many birds, particularly owls, are intentionally reared to ‘imprint’ on humans so that they can be trained. This deprives them of many natural behaviours and interactions with their own species, and forces them to rely entirely on their human carers and denies them the chance of ever being released into the wild. 

You are tarnishing all falconers with the same brush! Some really care about their birds.

Of course, as in any animal industry, we’re sure many falconers do genuinely care about the animals they work with, and believe they’re providing the best care possible. The industry as a whole, however, is largely unregulated and this leaves many animals unprotected against poor animal husbandry and neglect. As well as this, we believe that many of the traditional falconry practices described in our Tether and Torment report do not match up to modern day animal welfare standards. We also found that many bird of prey zoos ignored industry guidelines, such as never tethering owls. So there is a lot of work to be done. 

Ultimately, we believe that wild animals should be free, in the wild, where they belong. Not in captivity for our entertainment.