Animals should run free – not sit in cages for our entertainment.
Wildlife programmes have made us much more aware of the natural world and natural habitats. This has prompted public revulsion against the squalid, imprisoning conditions in the world’s zoos. Increasingly, people find it unacceptable to see lions and tigers pacing up and down tiny concrete cages.
London Zoo has responded to this concern for animal welfare with it’s showpiece Gorilla Kingdom, an enlarged enclosure. But this is still a tiny faction of the territory that gorillas would roam over in the wild. Moreover, it is not the gorilla’s natural rainforest habitat. In fact, it is not forest at all. The unnatural open-plan layout is designed to put the gorillas on public display, so they can’t hide away from the zoo’s cash-cows, the gawping, squawking visitors.
Other captive species are even more unlucky. Near the large aviary there are rows of small cages with two or three exotic birds in each. They have no space to fly at all – only enough room to flap their wings for a few feet at the most.
The camels, zebras and giraffes are confined in bare, barren enclosures – none big enough for them to be able to wander as they would in the wild.
Some smaller animals are isolated alone or with only one companion animal. They are held in tiny glass display cases – a few only four feet by three feet. The need for the public to be able to see the captive species takes precedence over the animal’s welfare.
London Zoo’s ultimate justification is conservation. But this is largely PR spin. The Born Free Foundation exposed the mostly poor conservation record of London Zoo and the 12 other zoos in the Consortium of Charitable Zoos. They house only 8% of endangered mammals, just over 5% of threatened birds, a mere 11 of the 1,811 at risk amphibians and only 3.5% of the species on Red List of Threatened Species.
In 2007, Westminster Council, which licences London Zoo, admitted that it had “failed to undertake its statutory duties under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 in relation to required inspections and implementation of conditions.” This included neglecting to carry out annual inspections and undertaking no inspections at all from 1995 to 2002.
London Zoo got away with no proper inspections for years. Why and how? The truth is the should be closed down. It’s unnatural, unkind and unfit.
* Peter Tatchell is a Patron of the Captive Animals Protection Society. This is an excerpt from his speech to Animal Aid’s Christmas Fayre on Sunday 30 November 2008.