How do you define a zoo?
According to the UK's Zoo Licensing Act 1981 a 'zoo' is an establishment where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public otherwise than for purposes of a circus and otherwise than in a pet shop. To operate within the law, these establishments must have a zoo licence and the Zoo Licensing 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.
These establishments can vary in what they are called. What we commonly refer to as safari parks, wildlife parks, public aquariums and birds of prey centres are all considered to be 'zoos' under the zoo licensing act if they are open to the public for more than seven days a year.
How does zoo licensing work?
When visiting an animal institution you want to be confident that the institution has high standards of welfare for the animals it looks after. Zoos and aquariums in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe are licensed under the EU Zoos Directive. Essentially this means that each country develops its own legislation for licensing zoos and aquariums. In the UK this legislation is the UK Zoo Licensing Act, which has been in place since 1981 and is still recognised as being one of the most robust licensing systems across Europe.
How it works
Under the UK’s Zoo Licensing Act, it is illegal to operate within the UK as a zoo or aquarium without a valid zoo licence. Within the UK the definition of a zoo is quite broad and works around two principles:
1) Any organisation that holds exotic animals (non-domestic livestock)
2) Any organisation that is open to the public (paid or unpaid) for more than seven days in one year
UK zoos and aquariums are issued with a six-year license following a comprehensive inspection involving government appointed inspectors. Every licensed attraction will then be re-inspected every three years by government inspectors, as well as annually by their local authority.
These inspections cover all aspects of an animal’s care, including their enclosures and any holding areas that are not visible to the public. They also inspect equipment, storage areas, food preparation and veterinary facilities, and scrutinise staff training, security and record keeping for each animal. These records must include the details of the birth of the animal as well as whether it has been moved between zoos.
Once issued, a zoo license may include comments from the inspectors both in the form of conditions (where the zoo or aquarium may need to take action to meet the requirements of the license) or recommendations (when they can use their expertise and knowledge to encourage further work from the zoo or aquarium).
What do I do if I see something I’m concerned about?
The first thing you should do is pass your concerns on to the managers of the zoos or aquarium in question so that they have an opportunity to address these in a timely fashion, particularly if what you have seen has immediate welfare implications for the animals within the collection. If having done this you still feel that further action is needed, then if the zoo or aquarium is a member of BIAZA you can contact us by sending an email to [email protected]. If the organisation is not a member of BIAZA then you should contact the Local Authority who may arrange a special inspection if they feel it is warranted.
How do I get a job in a zoo/aquarium?
Working with animals can be a very rewarding career and there are many different kinds of employment, work experience and voluntary placements available. However, competition for places is fierce and it is important to consider all the facts before applying for a position. You can find career advice and a full list of current vacancies on our Careers page.
How do I undertake research?
Researchers who are interested in collecting data across a number of BIAZA zoos and aquariums can apply for BIAZA support. Successful applicants will receive a signed letter of support encouraging member collections to assist with their work wherever possible.
For more information and an application form please visit our Research Support page.
How do I know if my local zoo is a member of BIAZA?
We ask that all our members display the BIAZA logo on their website and also place a BIAZA membership board in a prominent public place. However, the failsafe way of checking if your local zoo or aquarium is a member of BIAZA is to have a look at the BIAZA zoos and aquariums page on our website. Here you will find a full list of our members both full and provisional (those that are working towards full membership under mentorship). You can use the search tool to find a BIAZA zoo or aquarium near you, or to look for one near a place you may be visiting.