It is often stated that the UK ‘has some of the best animal welfare legislation in the world’. Yet when we investigate zoos and aquariums we repeatedly find animals suffering. To investigate how effective the law is around regulating zoos, Freedom for Animals commissioned an independent study.

Shockingly, our findings suggest that these laws are not only failing, but can never work effectively to protect animals.

“A Licence to Suffer” summarises the findings of the commissioned study, which examined the practical application of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. The study used official zoo inspection reports completed by authorised inspectors, for 75% of all zoos in England.

Read more in ‘A Licence to Suffer’.
(Please note this report is under our old name, Captive Animals' Protection Society)

Zoo regulation failings include:

An average fully licensed zoo holds over 2,000 animals. Formal inspections should be carried out once every two or three years by qualified government inspectors.

Usually lasting no more than one working day, an inspection allows each animal a maximum of 36 seconds of the inspectors’ time. For the largest zoo in England, this is reduced to just 1.4 seconds.

70% of local authorities missed at least one inspection of zoos they had licensed

74% of inspection reports identified reoccurring unsatisfactory issues

95% of zoos should have had legal enforcement action taken against them at some time between 2005 and 2011. Only two instances of the correct enforcement action were identified.

89% of of zoos non-compliance with EC legislation for zoos

How can animals in zoos ever be protected? 

Each individual animal may only be seen for mere seconds by a zoo inspector. How can they fully determine if that animal is healthy and well? And when inspections are being missed, these animals can go for longer without even this basic check. 

We are seeing recurring issues at zoos which could put the animals at risk. Worryingly, zoo inspectors and the local authorities who licence zoos are failing to take legal action when zoos do not rectify these problems. These are the agencies who are supposed to be looking out for animals. 

Our ongoing monitoring work of zoos over the years has uncovered numerous examples of non-compliance with legal standards but we were shocked to discover the extent of the failings across the industry.

We hope that this report will have a far-reaching effect in terms of both public awareness and also within the system itself. What is clear is that the current state of affairs is wholly unacceptable.

“These findings serve as an important reminder that the existence of rules and regulations has little meaning if coupled with a failure to ensure that they are followed. The old adage “rules are made to be broken” might spring to mind, but when the rules in question are the only safeguard of the wellbeing and welfare of many thousands of sentient, living, breathing creatures who cannot enforce those rules in their own right, this failure takes on a deeply disturbing character”.

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder

Download reports:

Click HERE to download the summary report (A Licence to Suffer)

Click HERE to download the full study (Casamitjana, J. 2012. Inspecting Zoos: A study of the official zoo inspection system in England from 2005 to 2011. The Captive Animals’ Protection Society)