Vague rules mean animals suffer in EU zoos: NGOs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of animals throughout Europe are kept in cruel conditions because zoos fail to apply EU rules on standards of care and the laws themselves are unclear, an animal welfare coalition said on Wednesday.

Zoos often fall short of providing proper space, nutrition and mental stimulation for the animals, said ENDCAP, a pan-European coalition of non-government organizations seeking better care for animals in captivity.

ENDCAP and fellow NGO Born Free Foundation took their message this week to the European Parliament in Brussels, where the two groups showed footage of zoo animals in Romania, Spain and Bulgaria living in what they called poor conditions.

“They are not stimulated so they start developing kinds of abnormal behavior like pacing, rocking. Some animals pull their feathers or hair out. Some actually go into self-mutilation,” ENDCAP coordinator Daniel Turner said.

Turner said EU countries failed to enforce the bloc’s rules on animal care because the regulations were vague and it was not clear how they should be implemented. As a result, zoos failed to meet even basic requirements for animals.

Zoos say it is not easy to comply with the rules, which include creating enough space for animals to roam.

Belgium’s Antwerp zoo, for example, has few enclosures. Along with cages, it has spaces surrounded by glass for some animals so that visitors and animals can look at each other.

The zoo, trying to improve standards, has invested over 80 million euros ($101 million) in the past decade. Its director Rudy Van Eysendeyk says the city is growing around the zoo, making expansion more difficult.

He said Antwerp zoo was close to full compliance with the EU rules and would continue improvements even when it exceeded the requirements, spending 10 million euros each year on further programs and improvements.

Van Eysendeyk said the need for such extensive funding probably make it harder for smaller zoos to make needed changes.

Calling zoos a “necessary evil,” he noted that some played a role in serious animal research and ran programs to help disappearing species reproduce.

“Unfortunately, man is taking more and more of the habitat of the animals ... we have to make people conscious of what they are doing to nature. So we have to bring people to the animals to see what the animals are ...” he said.

editing by Dale Hudson and Tim Pearce