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Zoos and circuses

A tiger in a zoo

Zoos are places where wild animals are kept for exhibition to the public, and to which the public has access, with or without charge, seven days or more a year. Zoos range from large city zoos and safari parks to reptile houses, aquaria and bird of prey centres. Any zoo displaying wild animals not normally domesticated in Great Britain could be subject to licensing and inspection under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (the ZLA).

Circus animals

The Government has confirmed its intention to pursue a ban on the use performing wild animals in travelling circuses in England on ethical grounds. As this will take time to achieve, a public consultation exercise was launched on 1 March 2012 seeking views on Defra’s proposals to introduce a licensing scheme for travelling circuses in England that still use wild animals.

Latest news

The current situation

Well-managed zoos can play an important role in educating visitors about wild animals and their habitats, and through activities which help conserve and protect threatened wildlife. The licensing and inspection of zoos is a matter for local authorities. Guidance and other forms and documents are available to help local authorities.

The Secretary of State specifies minimum Standards that zoos in England are expected to meet. The Zoos Forum Handbook supplements the Standards helping to maintain high standards.

Defra’s executive agency, Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, is responsible for maintaining a list of Secretary of State Zoo Inspectors through its Zoos Inspectorate. Inspectors are expected to refer to the Standards when carrying out inspections.

The Zoos Expert Committee

The Zoos Expert Committee replaced the Zoos Forum on 1 February 2011 and provides UK Ministers with independent and authoritative technical advice to support policies on zoo matters.

The Committee’s key role is to provide advice and recommendations on measures to encourage the role of zoos in conservation, education and scientific research; and on the operation and implementation of the zoo licensing system in the UK.

Documents relating to the Committee are the Terms of Reference; Strategic Work Plan; and minutes of meetings.

Minutes of the Committee’s first meeting held on 10 May 2011 are attached

Draft minutes of the Committee’s second meeting held on 15 September 2011 are also attached

When required, the Committee will provide ad-hoc advice for UK Ministers, for example on correspondence received on zoo matters.

Committee Members

  • Anna Meredith (Chair)
  • Brian Bertram
  • Deborah Bradfield
  • Sarah-Jane Brown
  • Ros Clubb
  • John Eddison
  • David Field
  • David Price
  • Sharon Redrobe
  • Jake Veasey
  • Cheryl Williams
  • Stephen Woollard


  • The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 sets out how zoos in Great Britain are inspected and licensed. This ensures that zoos are safe for the public to visit, that high standards of welfare are maintained and that zoos make a contribution to conservation of wildlife. It also implements European Council Directive 1999/22/EC in the UK.
  • Vertebrate animals kept in zoos are subject to protection under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (PDF 280 KB).

Links and publications

For more information about zoos or the Zoos Expert Committee contact:
Zoos Branch, Wildlife Species Conservation
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Zone 1/14b
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Temple Quay
Telephone: 0117 372 3606

Page last modified: 1 March 2012