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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’).

The case for government action

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. Standards of Modern Zoo Practice specifies minimum standards zoos in England are expected to meet.

The Secretary of State appoints Zoo Inspectors who inspect zoos in England from time to time, as set out in the ZLA. Animal Health, department’s executive agency, oversees the allocation of inspectors. Animal Health also maintains a list of zoos operating in England. More information on Animal Health’s role in zoo licensing and inspection is on the Animal Health website.

Latest news

Because concerns have been expressed that implementation of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 by local authorities is inconsistent, Defra commissioned ADAS to conduct a review of implementation of the Act by local authorities in England and Wales. The following summary statement outlines the project and its aims. The project is expected to be completed in summer 2011.

The current situation and background

The Zoos Forum 

Following the Government’s review of its Arms Length Bodies in 2010, the Zoos Forum was replaced by a new Zoos Expert Committee on 1 February 2011. The Committee will allow Government and the devolved administrations continued access to independent authoritative technical advice to support its policies on zoos in the UK.

The zoos webpage will be updated in due course to reflect this change.

The Zoos Forum is an independent body that advises government on zoo matters. The Forum’s Terms of Reference are:

  • to encourage the role of zoos in conservation, education and scientific research;
  • to keep the operation and implementation of the zoo licensing system in the UK under review
  • to advise or make recommendations to Ministers of any legislative changes that may be necessary

The Zoos Forum Handbook supplements the Standards and helps to maintain high standards in zoos.

There are currently 13 members on the forum who are appointed by ministers. They are:

  • Dr James Kirkwood (Chair)
  • Dr Brian Bertram
  • Dr Ros Clubb
  • Dr John Eddison
  • Amanda Ewington
  • David Field
  • Alastair Grant
  • Anna Meredith (Vice Chair)
  • Timothy Nevard
  • Dr David Price
  • Sharon Redrob
  • Dr Jake Veasey
  • Stephen Woollard

The forum meets three times a year, one meeting of which is open to the public. Minutes of the two most recent meetings are attached:

The forum also produces an annual report, updating on progress in encouraging the role of zoos in conservation, education and scientific research, and a strategic work plan which is updated every year:

For more information about zoos or the Zoos Forum contact:
Zoos Branch, Wildlife Species Conservation
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Zone 1/11
Temple Quay House
2 The Square
Temple Quay
Telephone: 0117 372 8385


  • 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.
  • Local authorities administer the licensing and inspection of zoos. There are guidance, forms and other documents to help local authorities. Vertebrate animals kept in zoos are subject to protection under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (PDF 280 KB).

Links and publications

Page last modified: 18 February 2011