Zoos and aquariaIn the European Union, zoos are defined as “permanent establishments where animals of wild species are kept for exhibition to the public for 7 or more days a year, with the exception of circuses, pet shops…” (Article 2) and are required to comply with the EC Zoos Directive 1999/22/EC. The Directive aims to strengthen the role of zoos in the protection of wild fauna and the conserve biodiversity.
From April 2002, all EU Member States were required to transpose the Directive’s requirements into national (or in some cases, regional) legislation and designate an appropriate competent authority to ensure effective implementation and enforcement (Article 7). National zoo legislation could impose additional legal requirements on top of those required by the Directive and many Member States chose to include further provisions.
From April 2005, all zoos (which include aquaria, specialised animal collections, aviaries, etc.) within the European Union were required to be licensed with the competent authority and for regular inspections to be undertaken to ensure compliance with the national zoo legislation, which include the conservation provisions of Article 3 of the Directive:

  • Participate in scientific research and/or training and/or information exchange and/or captive breeding that benefits increased conservation of species;
  • Deliver public education, and specifically raise awareness of the importance of conservation of biodiversity, as well as information about the species on display;
  • Ensure all the animals are housed in an appropriate environment that satisfy their biological and conservation requirements of the individual species, by providing species specific environmental enrichment of the enclosures, maintaining high standards in animal husbandry, preventative and curative veterinary care and nutrition;
  • Prevent the escape of animals and the intrusion of indigenous animal species; and
  • Maintain up-to-date records of the animals in their care.

If a zoo is not licensed in accordance to the Directive, or the licensing conditions are not met, the zoo, or part thereof, should be closed to the public, and / or will be required to comply with appropriate conditions imposed by the competent authority that ensure that the licensing conditions are met (Article 4). On closure, the competent authority shall ensure that the animals are treated or disposed under conditions the Member State considers appropriate and consistent with the general provisions of the Directive (Article 6).
In 2012, the EU Zoo Inquiry, an evaluation of the implementation and enforcement of the Directive across the EU, concluded that a lack of guidance to assist in the application of national zoo legislation and the limited knowledge of many Member State competent authorities, obstruct effective enforcement in the majority of EU countries. The study, undertaken by the Born Free Foundation with support of ENDCAP members, revealed that the majority of zoos in the EU were non-compliant with national law: resulting in animals kept in substandard conditions. In response, the European Commission instructed the development of the EC Zoos Directive Guidance and Good Practice Document, which will be published in 2014.

Whilst ENDCAP remains opposed to the concept of keeping wild animals in captivity, in zoos and other captive animal facilities, and seeks to influence the conservation agenda to instead protect species and their habitats in the wild, ENDCAP pursues to uphold the Directive and ensure its effective application and enforcement. Where bad practice is identified, ENDCAP seeks to prevent animal suffering, expose malpractice and unjustified claims and raise awareness about the plight of the animals to influence their greater protection.


Zoo: All permanent establishments where animals of wild species are kept for exhibition to the public for seven or more days in a year, with the exception of circuses, pet shops and establishments which Member States exempt from the requirements of the Directive on the grounds that they do not exhibit a significant number of animals or species (Directive 1999/22/EC).

Animal: A multicellular organism of the Kingdom Animalia, including all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.

Wild Animal: An animal that is not normally or historically domesticated in the specific country.

Domesticated Animal: An animal of a species or breed that has been kept and selectively modified over a significant number of generations in captivity to enhance or eliminate genetic, morphological, physiological or behavioural characteristics, to the extent that such species or breed has become adapted to a life intimately associated with humans.

Environmental Quality: A measure of the condition of an enclosure environment relative to the requirements of the species being exhibited.

Threatened Species: A species that is categorised by the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List website).

Ex situ: The conservation of components of biological diversity outside their natural habitats. (Glowka et al., 1994)

In situ: The conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings. (Dudley, 2008)

Zoonoses: Those diseases and infections which are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and man.

Animal Sanctuary: A facility that rescues and provides shelter and care for animals that have been abused, injured, abandoned or are otherwise in need, where the welfare of each individual animal is the primary consideration in all sanctuary actions. In addition the facility should enforce a non-breeding policy and should replace animals only by way of rescue, confiscation or donation.

  • There are believed to be over 3,500 zoos in the EU
  • Zoos affiliated to the trade association, EAZA only represent 8% of all the zoos in the EU
  • Facilities keeping dolphins are also regarded as zoos by most Member States (except Bulgaria)
  • Spain was taken to the European Court of Justice (2007) for failing to implement the Directive
  • The competency for zoo regulation usually involves multiple governing Ministries, which has caused inconsistency in application
  • Some species of animal, such as elephants and polar bears, have the added disadvantage of being kept in an unnatural climate, unnatural social groupings and be prevented from carrying out their natural behaviours as a direct result of being kept in captivity

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