The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), under its previous name of the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland, was the prime mover in encouraging and assisting central government in creating legislation to regulate zoos. The Zoo Licensing Act (1981) was amended by the 2002 Regulations to give effect to the provisions of the EU Zoos Directive (1999/22/EC). The UK Zoo Licensing Act focusses on animal welfare and public safety whereas the EU Zoos Directive concentrates on conservation, education and research making the UK’s zoo licensing legislation one of the strongest interpretations of the Directive in Europe.
The implementation is complex. The Animal Plant and Health Agency (Defra) manage and assign Secretary of State (SoS) Inspectors, who are zoo experts (vets with wild animal experience and zoo managers). However, it is the local authorities who implement the legislation and arrange inspections for zoos within their jurisdiction. The SoS Inspectors may put forward recommendations and conditions to the zoo licence, and check all previous conditions have been met. If they have not been met it would be the decision of the local authority to issue a Direction Order. Compliance and enforcement is the responsibility of the local authority and therefore the decision to close a zoo or aquarium falls to them.
Defra figures from last year suggest there are around 310 licensed zoos and aquariums in the United Kingdom. BIAZA is aware of a small number of high profile cases highlighting areas of concern with the inspection process. Whilst these cases have occurred in non-BIAZA zoos, the discussions around zoo licensing impact on the profession as a whole. As the National Zoo Association, BIAZA has prepared the following Position Statement.
BIAZA and its members welcome the Zoo Licensing and Inspection process, and celebrate the fact that our system is recognised as one of the most robust in the EU. We believe that the Zoo Licensing and inspection process is relevant and promotes the growth and development of our leading zoos and aquariums. However, BIAZA also believes that operation and implementation of the inspection process can be strengthened.
BIAZA believes that:
- The UK system is one of the most robust within the European Union and is instrumental in the development of our leading zoos and aquariums
- The system of Defra appointed Secretary of State (SoS) Inspectors allows assessment by personnel with relevant training and experience
- The system of placing the licensing under local authority jurisdiction allows local knowledge, with regard to facilities, resources and issues to be integrated into the inspection process
- Inconsistencies arise between SoS Inspectors and between Local Authority Inspectors. This is particularly true in situations where Local Authority Inspectors struggle to gain experience and maintain competence
- The training of Local Authority Inspectors is currently inadequate
- The assessment of the continued professional development of both Secretary of State Inspectors and Local Authority Inspectors is currently inadequate
- There appears to be a hesitancy in taking strong action against a zoo or aquarium that is not performing to standard
BIAZA asks that:
- The current list of SoS Inspectors is re-examined to ensure that current inspectors are maintaining a level of competency and relevance
- The joint training for zoo and aquarium operators, Local Authority Inspectors and SoS Inspectors that was previously available, be reinstated
- That both Local Authority Inspectors and SoS Inspectors be asked to demonstrate a level of continued professional development through attendance at relevant meetings, workshops or other training opportunities on a yearly basis
- SoS Inspectors must be robust and strive for consistency across the local authority areas
- That the practicality of a local authority revoking a zoo licence and taking over the zoo or aquarium whilst the animals are rehoused should be strongly considered and guidance prepared for how this may be implemented
- That due consideration is given to the coordination of Local Authority Inspectors on a regional basis to give an additional forum for the discussion of best practice solutions
- That a reporting system to encourage central government to take action against a local authority that is not meeting requirements under zoo licensing is considered
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