Charlotte Ellis, ZSL

New report demonstrates crucial role of zoos and aquariums in protecting UK native wildlife

Posted: 26th February, 2021

New report shows the fate of 29 native species rests in the hands of zoos and aquariums 

·       Report shows at least 76 native species are being restored by the work of zoos 

·       New video featuring Father Ted actor Brendan Dempsey shows zoos at the forefront of rewilding including beavers and storks 

·       Conservation is under pressure in the pandemic, but in England the UK Government’s Zoo Animal Fund which closes today  (26 February) hasn’t covered essential zoo and aquarium conservation work. 


A new report published today by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) shows how zoos and aquariums are playing an important role in some of the biggest conservation success stories in the country including beaver and chough reintroductions. However, the impact of the coronavirus has been devastating for zoos and, with no Government support many of these conservation projects face threats to their own survival. 


‘In Our Hands’ examines the extraordinary conservation outputs of just nine of BIAZA’s members, including ZSL London Zoo, Chester Zoo and The Deep aquarium. Click here to download In Our Hands.


The report shows:  


·       76 native species are being restored by the work of these zoos and aquariums including pine martens, and Scottish wild cats. 

·       20 native species would face decline or even extinction without the work of these zoological organisations – including species such as beavers and the white stork. 

·       Nine Species in British Overseas Territories are also being conserved in the hands of zoos, aquariums and partners, including the spiky yellow woodlouse and the mountain chicken frog. 

·       28 plant species are being restored to the environment with assistance of zoos and aquariums 


In the case of some projects, species such as beavers and storks are being reintroduced to the UK after hundreds of years of absence, with the support of zoos and their partners. A process which might seem simple but takes years of work from dedicated conservationists.  


Dr Jo Judge, the CEO of BIAZA said: “The work of zoos and aquariums protecting our natural world and fighting extinction has never been so needed. When you think of zoos many people think of their work conserving animals like tigers and elephants , but this report shows zoos are also having a transformational effect closer to home,” 


ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for example has been at the forefront of conserving the rare corncrake to the British countryside. Over 1000 birds have been bred at the zoo and released in Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire. Currently the zoo is providing expert advice on the risk of diseases to the health of these rare birds. The expertise of ZSL London and Whipsnade zoos is also important to the recovery of some of Britain’s most beloved species such as harbour seals and sea eagles.  


The report identified nine species in the British Overseas Territories that would face significant declines without the action of zoos. In Montserrat, Chester Zoo is working with the Durrell Wildlife Trust and ZSL London Zoo to restore the critically endangered mountain chicken frog which only exist in Montserrat in special enclosures set up by the zoos. Without their work the enigmatic frog would face extinction.  


Dr Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation and Policy at ZSL (the charity behind London and Whipsnade Zoos) says, “The future of some of these species is quite literally in our hands. Zoos and aquariums are crucial contributors to the conservation of highly threatened species around the world.” 


"Built from a foundation of expertise with the care of many different species, zoos and aquariums lead species recovery programmes, train and mentor conservationists and generate new science that helps guide future efforts. Some of the species in our zoos are now extinct in the wild and we work closely with governments and local partners to support recovery efforts. We are in the midst of an extinction crisis and we need to see the urgent scaling up of global efforts to save species. But repeated closures over the past year have put this vital work under intense strain - we need the Zoo Animal Fund to be reviewed so that the work of our zoos and others can continue and we meet the challenges facing us all.” 


A video, released by BIAZA to illustrate the report, shows the wide range of zoo-led conservation; from creating new habitats for threatened species and conducting surveys on wild birds, to reintroducing endangered species.  



The video also shows how zoos and aquariums are working to share the important knowledge and skills that caring for these animals provides conservationists.  


The UK Government established the £100m Zoo Animals Fund to support zoos through the pandemic, however the scheme closes to applicants today (Friday 26 February), access to the scheme is extremely restricted and the Fund cannot be applied to conservation work. £94m remains unspent so BIAZA is calling on Government to replace the existing scheme with a Zoo Recovery Fund that would support conservation. 


Dr Judge called for changes to Government support: “The Zoo Animals Fund was only ever designed to support emergency animal welfare in a fraction of zoos in the direst of circumstances, and yet the whole sector has been impacted by the coronavirus. Ninety-four million pounds is unspent at a time when zoos, aquariums and safari parks desperately need that support.” 


“We have this week learned that zoos and aquariums face an extended wait until they can reopen, putting them and their crucial work under increasing pressure. The research of In Our Hands shows so clearly that this is a time Government should be supporting zoos more than ever. As the UK Government attempts to lead the world on environmental matters, they cannot ignore the crisis in our zoos.” 


“Zoos, aquariums and safari parks currently have no visitors and no Government support. We must see a replacement fund that helps all zoos survive and supports their vitally important conservation, education and research work. The pandemic we face is a result of our destruction of the natural world. We cannot have conservation falter on this Government’s watch.”