Zoo Animals

Many zoo animals in the EU are kept in conditions that cause them great stress and suffering.

The EU’s zoos are home to millions of animals, but there’s a lack of consistency of standards even in licenced zoos, not to mention in the hundreds of unlicensed and unregulated zoos.

Eurogroup for Animals’ member organisations have consistently tried to bring evidence of the suffering of zoo animals to light. A study by Djurens Rätt in 2017 showed how Swedish zoos fell below the required standard for care, particularly on space requirements, care of hooves and fur, and the keeping of animals in groups. To maintain genetic diversity and free up space, some zoos regularly cull the surplus of animals in their care. This is the fate which befell Marius the giraffe in Copenhagen Zoo. 

Some zoos do not recreate or offer the care and the conditions required to ensure that wild animals can carry out their natural behaviours. For instance, elephants are social animals and need company; they should not be kept alone. However, this is the case for some elephants such as Flavia, who lived alone at the Cordoba Zoo in Spain for over 40 years. She apparently suffered depression and died in 2019.

Dolphins need space in which to move and hunt, and the tanks in which they live are seriously inadequate. 

In 2019 in Italy, a court found a dolphinarium director and veterinarian guilty of animal abuse, the first court case of this kind won in Europe.

These things can happen when Directive 1999/22/EC (the Zoos Directive), which was adopted in 1999, is inconsistently implemented and enforced.

In other cases, it is completely absent. The Directive establishes compulsory and centrally regulated licencing of zoo facilities and mandates that animal welfare is respected as much as possible, as well as establising zoos’ responsibilities in conservation, but nevertheless there are still unlicensed zoos in EU Member States.

THERE ARE

26

DOLPHINARIA IN 15 MEMBER STATES

THE EU ZOOS DIRECTIVE GOOD PRACTICES DOCUMENT IS AVAILABLE IN

7

LANGUAGES

AN AVERAGE OF

3300

ANIMALS PER YEAR ARE "MANAGEMENT-EUTHANISED" IN EUROPEAN ZOOS

WHAT DOES THE PUBLIC THINK?

While many zoos claim that they are centres for education, research and conservation, these claims are contested. Substandard zoos have no regard for the needs of the animals and their natural behaviours. It is important to question the educational value of the 32 dolphinaria in 15 Member States, which are also covered by the Zoos Directive.

In 2020 Pairi Daiza, the Belgian open air zoo, announced the establishment of a hotel inside the zoo, with rooms with big windows to look directly into the enclosures, including underwater. This was criticized by our member organisation GAIA, who expressed their concerns that the animals would be disturbed throughout the night as well as during the day. This kind of commercial initiative is not only detrimental to the welfare of the animals, but doesn't comply with the educational and conservation role zoos should have according to EU legislation.

POLICY - CURRENT STATE OF PLAY

Sixteen years after the law’s adoption, the EC published the EU Zoos Directive Good Practices Document to clarify how the Zoos Directive could be implemented by the Member States in an attempt to streamline those practices. It took another four years for the document to be available in seven more languages than the original English version.

A 2018 evaluation of the Zoos Directive pointed to administrative shortcomings in ensuring animal welfare, such as infrequent and inconsistent licensing review periods amongst Member States, as well as inadequate licensing systems. It concluded that while the Directive in itself is fit for purpose, greater efforts are needed to ensure its implementation delivers animal welfare in practice.

The EC agrees with the need for action. One such action since has been the establishment of a consultation forum for all stakeholders.

Eurogroup for Animals has identified concrete areas for action to improve the welfare of animals in zoos

We will promote the use of the EU Zoos Directive Good Practices Document and press for its translation into more languages. 

We also strongly urge the European Commission and the Member States to go beyond simply enforcing the Directive by:

  • Developing minimum requirements for housing animals in zoos;

  • Creating a protocol for Member States to phase out unlicensed zoos;

  • Agreeing that in Europe, no licenses will be given to facilities where animals are used in performances;

  • Establishing rigorous management plans for the zoo animal populations, ensuring that breeding is allowed only in the context of well-coordinated official breeding programmes.