RZSS Edinburgh Zoo

Conservationists mark 3 year anniversary of Brexit calling for an end to red tape swamp

Posted: 31st January, 2023


  • On the 3-year anniversary of Brexit, zoos and aquariums across Great Britain have called on Government to end the endless red tape preventing conservation breeding.  
  • An open letter signed by over 75 zoos and aquariums calls on British Government to negotiate with the European Commission and enable the transfer of zoo animals between Britain and the EU.
  • Conservation breeding programmes are essential to many species but are threatened by overwhelming bureaucracy as animal transfer systems have not been replaced when leaving the EU.
  • The red tape ‘swamp’ is impacting species including black rhino, endangered monkeys and leopards.

Over 75 zoos, aquariums and conservationists have marked the 3-year anniversary of Brexit by calling for UK Government to negotiate an agreement with the EU commission to allow for the transfer of zoo/aquarium animals between Britain and the EU. The open letter, issued to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, has been signed by zoos, aquariums, safari parks and animal sanctuaries including ZSL London Zoo, Colchester Zoo and Blackpool Zoo.

  • Since leaving the EU, zoo animal transfers have plummeted by 85%,
  • Transfers are down from 1400 transfers per year, to just over 200.
  • This threatens conservation breeding programmes which rely on carefully planned transfers of animals between zoos and aquariums, to maintain healthy populations of species across Europe.

BIAZA, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has been working with officials to resolve the issues so that its members can continue contributing fully to international breeding programmes. However, without an agreement between Britain and the EU that removes unnecessary red tape, the number of animal transfers will never reach the levels seen before the UK’s exit from the EU.

Dr Jo Judge, CEO of BIAZA, commented: “Government has not replaced the framework that lets zoo animals move easily between Britain and the EU. The red tape swamp has made it extremely difficult for zoos and aquariums to fully partake in the international conservation programmes that are so important to many species.”

“We are facing a biodiversity crisis and need to be coming together more than ever to save species from extinction.”

Species that are extinct in the wild are completely reliant on breeding programmes to survive. Animals born in zoos require close international cooperation to ensure a species can thrive as a vital back-up to declining wild populations.

A number of conservation programmes are affected by the difficulty of animal transfers. They include:

  • Black Rhino – UK Zoos have an oversized importance to the future of black rhino, as they care for 25% of the zoo population of this Critically Endangered species in the European breeding programme. BIAZA Zoos have successfully reintroduced black rhino born in UK Zoos to the wild.
  • Asiatic lions – Endangered lions due to move from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo to a zoo in Denmark were held up by red tape for over a year!
  • Francois langurs - an Endangered monkey species, under threat from habitat loss and hunting, two male langurs matched with females at Whipsnade Zoo were prevented from moving from an Irish zoo for almost two years due to red tape.
  • Golden lion tamarins - Also Endangered, the move of one important female tamarin to London Zoo was delayed by almost 17 months, losing critical time for sustaining a vital back-up population to guard against the extinction of this species in the wild. Similarly, the move of an Endangered pileated gibbon at Colchester Zoo was also delayed by 17 months.
  • A Critically Endangered Amur Leopard at Colchester Zoo was due to move to a European Zoo as part of the coordinated breeding programme. But red tape meant that it was taking too long and the move never went ahead.

Breeding programmes underpin a very important part of the work BIAZA zoos and aquariums do to conserve species. BIAZA zoos support over 850 conservation projects in the wild through providing funding, expertise and skills. World-leading zoo research is contributing to the survival of many species, for example the development of a vaccine against a deadly elephant disease at Chester Zoo.

Malcolm Fitzpatrick, Chief Zoological Officer at ZSL’s conservation zoos, London and Whipsnade, said: “The UK Government and the EU must urgently come together to help the UK conservation community continue their vital work saving species from extinction.

“With the world’s biodiversity under more pressure than ever, a new path must be forged through the current red tape to allow conservationists to resume a full programme of international collaboration - protecting threatened species.”

David Field, Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) said: “Breeding programmes in good, conservation-focused zoos help to ensure the long-term survival of many species, so it is vital that a solution is found which enables animals to move between the UK and Europe. Collaboration is more important than ever as we face a worldwide extinction crisis.”

“The current situation may also raise short-term welfare challenges when zoos have to find or create habitats for animals which would previously have joined a breeding programme in another country.”

The BIAZA campaign calls for the negotiation of an EU-UK Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement which would enable more zoo and aquarium species to be moved as part of vital conservation breeding programmes.

Notes for editors: 

For more details or to request high resolution images, please contact:  
Andy Hall, BIAZA Communications and Public Affairs Senior Officer 

[email protected] / 07394388645 

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