UK zoos’ breeding programs hobbled by Brexit

NEWS AND OPINION: Do we care if UK’s zoos are struggling to breed captive animals because Brexit has introduced intolerable paperwork and bureaucracy? Scores of zoos including London Zoo claim that their breeding schemes for species such as rhinos, monkeys and other endangered animals are being hampered by Brexit red tape.

Post-Brexit red tape hampering zoo breeding programs
Post-Brexit red tape hampering zoo breeding programs. Image: MikeB at PoC.

Is there complaint tenable? It turns on whether breeding programs at zoos help in wildlife conservation for animals living in the wild. Of course, they claim that they do. The environment editor of The Times newspaper, Adam Vaughan, appears to support captive breeding programs in suggesting that they are effective in conservation.

I’ve always thought that the primary objective of zoos is to make money. To do that they need to renew their stock of animals to consistently maintain an attractive business. And to achieve that they have to breed animals. The spin-off is that there would appear to be conservation benefits. However, due to stress in captivity many animals don’t breed well or at all in zoos. Many contract killer diseases not present in the wild.

I can rely on PETA to provide balance to this argument. They say the following in answering the question as to whether zoos help to preserve endangered species.

  • Most zoo animals are not endangered.
  • Most zoo animals are not prepared for release into the wild.
  • It is very difficult if not almost impossible to release captive-bred animals into the wild successfully including threatened species.
  • Zoos aren’t breeding animals to replenish falling populations in the wild but to bring visitors through the gates.
  • Captive breeding, they argue, sends a false message to zoo visitors that something is being done about enhancing the survival of wild species.
  • A 2015 study found that unless there are genuinely successful conservation programs in the wild, captive breeding doesn’t make any difference.

The lead author of this study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, Dr. Paul Dolman, said:

“Our research challenges the assumption that when a species is perilously close to extinction in the wild, it is always a good idea to set up a captive breeding population … Without conservation in the wild there is no point in captive breeding.”

Real conservation

The only meaningful conservation takes place in the wild which primarily means protecting habitats. And eliminating poaching and the hugely profitable trade in wildlife body parts and live animals.

The problem is that business trumps the effort of conservationists because there’s more money in it. By comparison there’s little money in conservation. It is conducted out of a moral imperative to help save the planet. Unfortunately, under capitalism, the predominant political model, business wins out. Going forward, this will always happen unless there is a dramatic change in attitude by the major governments of the world.

Personally, I don’t feel upset about zoos being affected by Brexit. That said I’m going to add a bit more about their complaint.

Zoos are complaining about Brexit

More than 75 groups have signed an open letter to Rishi Sunak to resolve the problem. The signatories include Sea Life London Aquarium and Chessington World of Adventures in Surrey.

The Times reports that “breeding is vital for animals under threat in the wild. European bison…. were saved from extinction after only 54 were left in zoos”.

There is a lack of agreement concerning UK-EU animal transfers which is causing the blockage. It can take many months to transfer animals between the EU and UK. It took 17 months for London Zoo to receive an endangered golden lion tamarin.

London Zoo claims that the red tape is “hurting endangered wildlife”. Malcolm Fitzpatrick, the zoo’s chief geological officer said:

“Our zoos are custodians. With the increase in red tape, it is difficult to move the same number of animals around.”

The longest delay was 18 months to export a giraffe from London Zoo to the Czech Republic. There is a single certified haulier authorised to move giraffes in the UK. And apparently it is easier to transport zoo animals from the UK to Australia than to France (thanks to EU paperwork).

Transport costs are high such as £8000 to move a gibbon from France to the UK thanks to Brexit. It would have cost £1000 before Brexit. On that information, it seems that this is a multifaceted problem and not only to do with Brexit red tape. The EU are proud of the red tape. They see it as a sign of civilisation.

Below are some more articles on zoos.

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Speciesism - 'them and us' | Cruelty - always shameful
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Post Category: Zoos