8th September 2022

Freedom for Animals is saddened to hear about an avian influenza outbreak in captive birds at Paignton Zoo. This will result in the needless death of many birds, which should not be in a zoo in the first place.

The zoo has indicated that the majority of the birds in the main lake area and the free ranging peafowl have been rounded up and placed into a biosecure quarantine area. However, this will not protect them from being killed if any of the birds develop symptoms or test positive for avian flu. The zoo has also indicated that a small number of birds evaded capture and will now be 'removed by other means' - in other words killed, probably shot or suffocated (the latter is how APHA kills poultry on farms when avian flu strikes). 

Bird collections in zoos are extremely vulnerable to diseases like avian flu as they are kept in high densities in enclosures with limited space. We hope that no more birds develop symptoms or test positive for avian flu as they will be killed as a result.

Majority of bird species kept at Paignton Zoo are not endangered in the wild

The lake houses a dalmatian pelican, sarus crane, bar-headed geese, greylag geese, black-necked swan and red-crested pochard. The Dalmatian pelican is listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as 'near threatened', while the sarus crane is listed as vulnerable. Instead of captive breeding, conservation efforts should focus on preserving the birds' habitats and the factors impacting on them like intensive farming, pollution and climate change.

Bar-headed goose, greylag goose, black-necked swan, red-crested pochard and Indian peafowl (better known as peacocks) are listed as species of 'least concern'. In their statement released on 7th September, Paignton Zoo stated that 'as a conservation charity, we exist to help halt species decline'. If this is the case, why do they keep species that are not endangered and listed as 'least concern' by IUCN?

Let's be absolutely clear - none of these birds (or any young that they may produce) kept captive by Paignton Zoo will ever be released to the wild. So how can the zoo claim to be halting species decline when a) they never release birds to the wild and b) most of the birds' populations are not in decline?

On their own website, the zoo states that 'Dalmatian pelicans prefer to live in lakes, large inland marshlands and wetlands.' Yet at the zoo, they are kept in a small enclosure unable to fly or exhibit normal behaviour. Bar-headed geese are often kept in captive waterfowl collections but are not endangered in the wild - they are amongst the highest flying of birds, flying at over 8,000m over the Himalayas twice a year on migration and specially adapted to fly at such high altitudes, yet those at Paignton Zoo and in other collections are kept in small enclosures deprived of the ability to fly or indeed exhibit migratory behaviour. Greylag geese are also not endangered and are relatively abundant in the wild. There is no reason for them to be kept in captivity at all. And now they are all at risk of avian flu.

Freedom for Animals hopes that the disease does not spread any further and that no more birds are killed as a result. We call on the zoo to end the keeping and pinioning of birds in captivity. 



Many of the birds affected by the avian flu outbreak at Paignton Zoo will have been pinioned - this involves mutilating one of the birds' wings when a few old, cutting off part of the wing, which will never grow back. This deprives the birds of the ability to fly, a basic behavioural requirement for (most) bird species.