Director's blog: Zoo licensing and the BIAZA benchmark

Posted: 31st May, 2017

Following recent events, The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) is aware of a number of news items about British zoos and how they are lisenced. As the National Association that represents the best and most progressive zoos and aquariums across the UK and Ireland we are committed to ensuring that our members have the highest standards of welfare. BIAZA is the benchmark for zoos and aquariums with regards to animal care and our members are recognised as leaders in their field in terms of conservation, education and research.

In accordance with the zoo licencing system, all of our members are subject to regular inspections led by local authorities but drawing on expert inspectors appointed by the Government Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). As such, the isolated cases that have recently been reported in the media have been rightly identified by the inspection process and addressed accordingly by each institution. Identifying improvements at any organisation, not just zoos, is essential for continuous development, something which our members are fully committed to.

The recent conflation of isolated incidents into an alleged trend of UK zoos failing in their duty of care is clearly agenda driven and unsubstantiated by the evidence.  Independent licencing authorities across the UK have never suggested that issues at our featured zoos would be grounds for the revocation of their licences, and have demonstrated that these zoos are in full compliance with the UK’s Zoo Licencing system – which is recognised as being one of the most robust in Europe.  The same screening reports by Defra inspectors used as the basis for some articles have shown that aside from the highlighted issues, all the BIAZA members in the report have consistently high standards of welfare and husbandry.

Whilst we appreciate the public concern that will have been created by these reports, we feel obliged to highlight that non-expert interpretation of the findings of the independent inspectors, or the system of recommendations and sanctions, can be misleading. The usage of these reports as the basis of criticism of zoos by animal rights activists is therefore regrettable. Animal rights organisations, such as The Born Free Foundation, that are ideologically opposed to zoos, will characteristically suggest that incidents are covered up or under reported to paint an unsubstantiated negative image.

BIAZA does not dispute that recommendations and conditions from inspectors should be taken seriously, however, concluding from these freely available reports that the entire zoo and aquarium community is “decrepit and dangerous” is wrong, sensationalist, and potentially damaging to the vital conservation, education and research work of progressive zoos.

Ms King’s death is tragic, and we should be honouring her commitment to her role. She has been reported as being passionate about the important role zoos play with regards to conservation and raising awareness of the threat to our planet’s rich diversity. She should be remembered for this.

Dr Kirsten Pullen, CEO
British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums