A survey of 15 zoos in England and Wales found bears, big cats and elephants exhibiting hypnotic, repetitive behaviour typical of mammals kept in confined spaces - endless pacing and head swinging.
British zoos have attempted to transform their image into centres for conservation and education rather than mere menageries over the past decade. Animal Aid, which has 12,000 members, says that for many this is merely cosmetic.
Much of the captive breeding in zoos does nothing to further the cause of preserving wildlife in natural habitats. 'It puts the con in conservation,' said Terry Hill, a former bear-keeper at London Zoo, who carried out the survey. 'Nor can they claim to be educational; seeing these psychologically disturbed animals is anti-educational.' Animal Aid gave 'pitiful exhibits' awards to 10 of the 15 establishments it visited. Publishing its survey yesterday, the group said that in the worst zoos the most humane outcome would be to destroy the animals.
At Dudley Zoo in the West Midlands, a gorilla, Bonzo, has been kept alone for 20 years in a 'horrifically small' enclosure, and all the bears, apes and elephants were in enclosures that were either too small, or unstimulating. Peter Suddock, the businessman who took over the running of Dudley Zoo a year ago, said: 'We have changed and we need to carry on changing things.' As for Bonzo 'we've tried to find another home but we've been told by the experts that he's best off here'.
Flamingoland, near Pickering, North Yorkshire is condemned for continuing to breed polar bears in captivity, even though most British zoos will no longer exhibit them. Robert Gibbs, director of Flamingoland, said: 'We're in the business of keeping wild animals alive, and if that's an offence we plead guilty.'
Animal Aid also attacked conditions for bears at the Welsh Mountain Zoo, Colwyn Bay, and for elephants at Cricket St Thomas Wildlife Park in Somerset - although the zoo's director, John Taylor, said the animals were regularly taken for walks .
Other zoos criticised in the report were Bristol, Blackpool, Southport, Gatwick, Banham in Norfolk and Drayton Manor Park, Staffordshire.