Zoos in the UK hold tens of thousands of animals captive. One of the main ways they justify this captivity is to say that they need to protect animals who are endangered in the wild. So we thought we’d take a closer look at these claims…

By focusing on zoos in Wales, we carried out research which unearthed that just 9% of animals held captive are endangered and 17% are threatened in the wild. This means the vast majority of animals kept in zoos are not threatened in the wild, so why are they held captive?

Key findings

In zoos in Wales:

  • Only 9% of species are endangered
  • Only 17% of species are threatened
  • 84% of mammals; 95% of birds; 93% of reptiles; 79% of amphibians are not endangered
  • The most common species held in Welsh zoos are the house mouse and guinea pig
  • Of the top ten most commonly held species held in Welsh zoos, only two are threatened in the wild

Barn owls, veiled chameleons, meerkats, cabybaras, tawny eagles, two-toed sloth… all of these animals face a lifetime in captivity despite being classed as Least Concern in the wild. All of these animals are deprived of their natural lives in the wild, deprived of their freedom to experience the full lives they deserve.

Zoos hold these animals captive to provide entertaining variety for visitors who comes to zoos for a day out. Animal feeding opportunities and animal ‘meet and greet’ sessions only benefit the human visitors the zoo and of course, the zoo itself, who can make money. The animals are simply exploited, held captive for a lifetime.

Click here to read the summary report

Click here to read the full report

Whilst we do not believe keeping endangered species in zoos actually contributes to conservation, we really would expect zoos that claim to focus on this issue to not be holding so many animals captive who are not of conservation concern. It is time zoos were honest with the public and stopped using conservation claims as a veil for animal exploitation.

How you can help animals

  1. Read the reports above to find out more and share with friends and family
  2. Boycott zoos!
  3. Contact your MP and ask them to demand DEFRA investgate the failings of the Zoo Licensing Act
  4. Donate to help us expose the zoo industry further and fight for the freedom of all animals


95% of birds in zoos are not endangered in the wild – so why are they held captive?


*We identified the conservation status of each species, using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

It categorises species as: Not Evaluated, Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild or Extinct.

Species classified as ‘threatened’ are in the categories: Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild
Species classified as ‘endangered’ as in the categories: Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild

Investigation into the Conservation Status of Species Held in Welsh Zoos published Spring 2017.