The people’s vote: No more large animals in zoos

An exclusive opinion poll has revealed more than 75% of the British public believe the next UK government should end the keeping of large animals in zoos.

A montage of images featuring a badger, a monkey in a cage, an elephant, a lion head on a wall, a hare and a chameleon

With the UK now less than two years from a General Election, exclusive polling by Opinion Matters, commissioned by Born Free, has revealed a stark message to politicians from the British public: there will be no winners without wildlife.

Released today, the research serves as a much needed ‘wake-up call’ to all political parties, suggesting that not only do the electorate care deeply about animal issues, but that they are thoroughly disillusioned with current legislative and policy failings.

Key among the findings is that 76% of those surveyed believe it is very or quite important the next UK government phase-out the keeping of large animals, such as elephants, lions, tigers, giraffe and rhino, in zoos, wildlife parks and other captive facilities.

This compelling statistic shows there is now a tide of public support for Born Free’s founding principle on which the charity has campaigned for nearly four decades. Clearly, politicians and decision-makers can no longer afford to ignore those seeking to end the archaic, unethical, and damaging practice of keeping large animals in zoos.

Poll results also suggest respondents want transparent and robust assurances that their money is spent in ways that reflect their values and a lasting commitment to the preservation of the natural world. A resounding 88% of those asked declared it very or quite important that the next UK government stops using public money for activities which damage nature and wildlife or cause wild animal welfare harms as part of its manifesto.

Other significant findings further highlight the strength of feeling among UK voters on a wide range of animal welfare and wildlife issues, by somewhat or totally agreeing with:

  • 85% agreed the next UK government should introduce a ban on British hunters bringing ‘trophies’ of endangered or vulnerable animals into Britain
  • 83% agreed the next UK government should tighten the rules on the trade in and keeping of exotic pets
  • 82% agreed the next UK government should use its influence, via trade deals etc., to bring an end to overseas activities that involve animal cruelty, such as the slaughter of dolphins in the Faroes


“The British public has consistently called on parliamentarians to improve animal welfare and to take the measures necessary to restore our depleted fauna and flora and protect the diverse habitats on which they depend. Yet the conservation and welfare of our native wildlife remains an afterthought. This has to change.”

The message is clear. From trophy hunting to the use of traps and snares, from the destruction of native flora and fauna to the keeping of wild animals in zoos and private homes, the welfare of wild animals and the protection of our natural environment have been constantly pushed down the political agenda, and the British public have had enough.

The polling data shows there is widespread public support for the raft of transformative changes to wildlife policy and legislation outlined in Born Free’s UK Wildlife Conservation and Animal Welfare Manifesto, which is also released today.

This bold, compassionate and ambitious manifesto calls on all UK political parties and decision-makers to prioritise wildlife protection and wild animal welfare. It highlights the catastrophic global crisis facing wildlife and biodiversity, and the fact that, despite numerous high-profile government commitments in recent years, the UK remains one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries.

Born Free is urging those across the political spectrum to respect the will of the British people and make firm, transparent, accountable and costed manifesto pledges to protect and restore our natural habitats, tackle wildlife crime, improve and guarantee the welfare of wild animals both free-living and in captivity, and end perverse funding initiatives that are harmful to animals and the environments on which we all rely.

Specifically, but by no means exhaustively, Born Free is calling on political parties to:

  • Improve the regulation of zoos, and phase-out the keeping of wild animals unsuited to captivity
  • Ban the import of hunting trophies
  • Ban the advertising of low welfare animal tourism activities abroad
  • Strengthen the Hunting Act
  • Protect wild animals from the exotic pet trade
  • Eliminate the use of cruel snares and traps
  • End the import and sale of animal fur in the UK, including for military use
  • End the cruel and ineffective badger cull
  • Use the UK’s trading influence to help end the Faroe Island’s grind


By adopting these priorities, parties would be acknowledging the groundswell of public support for a ‘nature and animal welfare first’ approach to government and policy-making. It would show British voters that their prospective leaders are not only listening but are willing to act.

Will Travers OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Executive President said, “A healthy natural world is critical for our health and well-being. Healthy wildlife and healthy ecosystems also play a huge part in limiting the effects of climate change and protecting us from future pandemics. We call on all political parties to recognise the importance of protecting and restoring wildlife and wild habitats, and eliminating the negative impacts we have on the welfare of individual animals, by placing nature protection and animal welfare improvements at the heart of their manifesto commitments, and delivering on those commitments in the parliamentary sessions that will follow. Nothing less will do.”

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy added, “Practices in the UK such as trail hunting, the appropriation of huge tracts of land for the shooting of game birds and hares for sport, and the culling of badgers, result in animal destruction and suffering on a massive scale. Wild animals are traded and kept in zoos and private homes in ever-increasing numbers. Wildlife crime continues to have devastating impacts on individual animals, wildlife habitats, and wider society. Far too little is being done to effectively protect and restore our natural fauna and flora or safeguard the welfare of wild animals.”

Dominic Dyer, Born Free’s British Wildlife Advocate & Policy Advisor, concluded, “As Britain negotiates new trade agreements with countries around the world it’s critically important that wildlife protection and animal welfare are key components of any negotiation process. In the case of the Faroe Islands, the public expect the Government to suspend the current free trade agreement until the brutal, merciless killing of large numbers of whales and dolphins finally ends.”