Thursday, 29 October 2015

HSUS: Zoos, Sanctuaries and Accreditation






First, it should be pointed out to The Humane Society of the United States that all zoos and wildlife parks that display wild animals in the UK are accredited. This accreditation is based on the U.K.'s Zoo Licensing Act that was introduced in 1981. This legally obliges all these facilities to be subjected to inspection and licensing on a periodic basis.


Lots of things annoy me but professionally perhaps one of the most irksome things I keep seeing in the discourse between the animal-rights and animal welfare lobby - as regards to zoos - is the animal-rights lobbyists insistence of promoting their sanctuaries are somehow divorced from zoological collections.


The most recent example of this is a campaign by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) who operate internationally as Humane Society International. It appears that HSUS is not happy that the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in the United States is going to donate a group of chimpanzees to a Wingham Wildlife Park in the United Kingdom. To this end, HSUS have instigated an email campaign to contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and urge them to deny Yerkes permission to export the chimpanzees to Wingham Wildlife Park. They state that the wildlife park is an unaccredited zoo with no experience in keeping chimpanzees.  They further state that the chimpanzee should go to an accredited "sanctuary" in the United States.

First, it should be pointed out to The Humane Society of the United States that all zoos and wildlife parks that display wild animals in the UK are accredited. This accreditation is based on the U.K.'s Zoo Licensing Act that was introduced in 1981. This legally obliges all these facilities to be subjected to inspection and licensing on a periodic basis. Failure to reach a desired standard of animal husbandry and other issues such as education and research would mean that no licence to operate would be given. Further this is underpinned by the evolving document entitled the Secretary Of State Standards of Modern Zoo Practice.

Further, the UK government has wisely not discriminated the difference between a zoo or a sanctuary. All are treated as the same and all must comply with the legal standards demanded by the legislation.

Second, as the title of this commentary states, there is no dichotomy as regards zoos and sanctuaries. These so-called sanctuaries operated primarily by animal-rights lobby groups are using exactly the same techniques in animal husbandry as those developed over many years by zoological collections. To pretend otherwise is deceitful and is primarily mischief making. Of course, the animal-rights lobby would very much like to hold some kind of moral high ground which would allow them to do whatever they liked with the animals within their care without having to comply to an independent legal framework in which to operate their establishments. Fortunately, as stated, this situation has not been allowed in the United Kingdom.

Of course, wild animal facilities can hold accreditation to various trade bodies and in the United Kingdom this would be the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums  (BIAZA) and in the United States it is The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Nevertheless, such accreditation does not guarantee the same kind of protection to animals as does legally binding national or international regulations. Unfortunately, accreditation to trade bodies for facilities that cannot (or do not) fulfill the obligations of such accreditation generally results in the removal of accreditation but not necessarily any actions to ensure the welfare of the animals at that facility.

In the UK for example any wild animal holding facility that cannot fulfil their obligations under the legal remit of the Zoo Licensing Act would be effectively closed down and not allowed to operate. Even if such facilities were not open to the public they still have to comply with the U.K.'s Dangerous Wild Animals Act – which also requires inspection and licensing which can be refused.  It should also be noted, that since December 2012 legal regulations on the husbandry and care of wild circus animals has also been implemented in Britain under the auspices of the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. Moreover, the UK has since 2006 introduced the The Animal Welfare Act which also covers issues relating to the obligations of owners and keepers of animals to ensure their good welfare.

Therefore, inflammatory statements made by the Humane Society of the United States regarding a facility in United Kingdom and its "unaccreditation" is completely misleading. But then again as many consider this organisation an animal-rights group their position against zoological collections can come as no surprise.


Update October 2016

The chimps have now been moved to
Wingham Wildlife Park when a USA judge ruled in the park’s favour.  Wingham Wildlife Park and the Yerkes Center have also agreed to financially support chimpanzee protection projects in the wild, costing £150,000.