The Wild Debate: Is it right to keep animals in captivity?

As Longleat and Whipsnade celebrate significant birthdays Mark MacKenzie assesses their popularity

The huge interest shown in the London whale was a vivid illustration of Britons' love of animals. But while our concern for the plight of those in the wild remains undimmed, attitudes to creatures held in captivity are less well defined.

This year, Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in Bedfordshire celebrates 80 years of opening its gates to tourists. Further west, Wiltshire's Longleat Safari Park celebrates its 40th anniversary as an "animal attraction". According to research by the Born Free Foundation, an animal-welfare charity, the UK is home to more than 250,000 captive animals. Spread among 400 zoological collections, they are part of a global zoo industry running to more than 10,000 venues. With 600 million visits a year between them and an annual operating budget in the region of £2.8bn this is business on a grand scale.

"Our understanding is that the public perception of zoos is becoming more positive," says Ralph Armond, director general of London Zoo. He believes that leading city zoos such as London see themselves as "conservation centres" providing a vital educational resource "driven by the general growth of interest in green issues".

Britain's first zoo was the "Tower menagerie", established by Henry VIII in 1235. London Zoo, arguably the country's most well known, opened to the public in 1847. In the Victorian era the concept flourished, even if the welfare of "exhibits" played second fiddle to an obsession with taxonomy. Longleat, famous for its lions, opened in 1966, and was the first drive-through safari park outside Africa. Today, Britain's zoos and safari parks are regulated under the Zoo Licensing Act, introduced in 1981, and each receives an annual audit to ensure operations meet minimum animal-welfare requirements.

"In the 1950s," says Armond, "zoos attracted large numbers [London Zoo's annual record is two million], but with more competition numbers declined. In the past 10 years we've seen a steady increase; London is now up to 900,000 a year, with Whipsnade approaching 500,000." Armond describes London's as "a 21st-century urban zoo" with a visitor experience to match. In addition to various multimedia displays on site, he emphasises the zoo's contribution to conservation. "The Zoological Society of London [the body that oversees London Zoo and Whipsnade] operates 40 field projects funded by a mixture of gate receipts and sponsorship. In Kenya, we're introducing rhinos in a valley where 30 years ago there were 20,000 and now there are none.

"If we can get across why paying money to see those animals will help save them in the long term, I believe we have an increasing relevance."

It's a view not shared by Will Travers, chief executive of the Born Free Foundation, the organisation made famous by the conservationist Joy Adamson. In 1984, the foundation established Zoo Check, an investigative arm to monitor the welfare of animals in captivity worldwide and which played a key role in drawing up the European Zoos Directive legislation, which requires licensing for all zoos in the EU. Of the global contribution of zoos to conservation, Travers is withering. "It would be optimistic to say that it happens to any great degree. In terms of the bang for buck, payout on the conservation dividend is poor," he says. "For example, two major zoos in Australia [Taronga in Sydney and Melbourne Zoo] are importing elephants from Thailand and spending £25m on two enclosures. In field conservation terms, we could do a hell of a lot with £25m."

He is equally sceptical of the educational experience zoos provide. "People don't learn that much; we would contend they learn more from a well-crafted wildlife documentary."

While he concedes that legislation governing British zoos is relatively progressive, he warns that those planning zoo visits overseas should tread warily.

"In South America, it's hard to find any zoo that would meet the standards required in the UK. And with the exception of those in Johannesburg and Pretoria there are virtually no modern zoos in Africa," he says.

"In countries that are not particularly wealthy animal welfare isn't a priority. That said, we get more reports from Spain than from any other country in Europe. And in North America there are 2,500 display facilities licensed under the US Animal Welfare Act - the minimum legal requirements are pitiful."

News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'