The UK government has consulted with zookeepers on zoo standards in England, Wales and Scotland and agreed that bird of prey tethering “as a routine management practice must be phased out on all zoological collections by December 31, 2027” (The Times)
After that date it has been decided that birds must not be tethered for public display and must be kept untethered in aviaries.
Falconry displays which are popular and which can be seen at almost a hundred zoos and wildlife parks in the UK are going to be curtailed under these proposed welfare rules.
Falconers fear that the rules will be extended to all birds of prey in captivity. This would threaten the future of their 4000-year-old sport.
In 2019, Freedom for Animals, a charity, found that some zoos tethered birds for most of the day and night; and some chew at leg straps and try to take off and fly (see video below).
Charlie Heap, Director of the National Centre for Birds of Prey in Helmsley, North Yorkshire, said that tethering was not harmful to birds and was “for their own welfare”.
He said that trying to train a falcon without tethering in an aviary would end up with the birds hurting themselves when trying to escape. He also said that a ban would mean displays would become a rarity.
Andrew Kelly, the director of Freedom of Animals said: “If [zoos and falconers] need to tether them then we need to question whether they should be kept in captivity at all.”
On the Freedom for Animals website there is an article about birds of prey being tied down, manipulated and starved in UK zoos. Undercover researchers collected information about the abuse of these birds in UK zoos. The birds are routinely tied down for long hours and are effectively starved until they perform in flying displays. They live in poor conditions.
They say that there are around 95 bird of prey zoos in the UK housing a minimum of 4,252 birds of 170 species. They include owls, falcons, vultures, buzzards and eagles.
A falconry website called Urban Wings asks whether falconry is cruel. They say that falconers do not starve their birds. Birds mostly only fly when they want food. And the birds must be in peak condition to perform at their best. A starved bird would wither and eventually die, they say. It is not in the interests of falconers to starve birds.
As to tethering, they say that birds of prey “mostly sit quietly for long periods doing nothing at all to conserve energy”. They are therefore suited to being tethered. Further, they say that tethering is only carried out in periods between flying and when away from aviaries being transported. Under these circumstances it is for the birds’ safety.