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Zoos Directive

In a nutshell

The Zoos Directive seeks to promote the protection and conservation of wild animal species by strengthening the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity.

In practice

The greatest efforts for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity need to focus on measures in the wild. This is the primary focus of the EU's policy: through the Birds and Habitats Directives, the EU Biodiversity Strategy, the Regulation on Invasive Alien Species and EC wildlife trade regulations implementing CITES, all of which contribute to achieving objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity & other international agreements.

However, protecting wild animal species outside their natural habitat is also important for biodiversity conservation. In this context, the EU adopted Council Directive 1999/22/EC of 29 March 1999 on the keeping of wild animals in zoos. The Zoos Directive aims to strengthen the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity. It calls on Member States to adopt measures for the licensing and inspection of zoos in order to ensure that zoos respect certain conservation and protection measures, including appropriate accommodation of the animals.

Member States are responsible for applying the provisions of the Zoos Directive and ensuring their necessary enforcement. There is a very limited EU role in implementation as the Directive does not foresee the need for a committee or reporting obligations to the Commission. However, a lot of good practice approaches have been developed to help zoos increase their contribution to biodiversity conservation.

Good practices

To promote the sharing of experience and good practice in the implementation of the Zoos Directive, the Commission has financed a study aimed at helping stakeholders and Member States to put in practice the spirit and requirements of the Zoos Directive. This has involved consultation with experts and practitioners in different Member States and with different representative bodies concerned with zoos.

This good practice document reports on the findings of this study, summing up the current state of knowledge and highlighting good practices to help practitioners and Member States achieve the overall objective of strengthening the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity.

This good practice document reports on the findings of this study, summing up the current state of knowledge and highlighting good practices to help practitioners and Member States achieve the overall objective of strengthening the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity.

The EU Zoos Directive Good Practices Document, July 2015, is available in 8 languages:

Zoos Directive evaluation and follow-up actions

Between 2015 and 2018, the Commission carried out an evaluation of the Zoos Directive. Results show that the Directive is fit for purpose. Although good progress has been made towards meeting the Directive's main and specific goals, this is incomplete. Realisation of the Directive's full potential will depend upon improved implementation, ensuring that all zoos across the EU contribute to the conservation of biodiversity.

Different stakeholder groups have highlighted a range of obstacles to more effective and efficient implementation. These include limited capacity of the licencing and inspection process (particularly in relation to specialist knowledge on zoo animals and conservation issues). There are also resource constraints in Member States' competent authorities. The involvement of different authorities in licencing and inspection can lead to delays. Actions by Member States to remedy these shortcomings serve as good practice examples. The absence of an EU forum for Member States and stakeholders to exchange experience and share good practice has been identified as an obstacle to improved implementation.

In order to remedy these shortcomings, the Commission has tendered a 3-year service contract, covering the following actions:

  • Organising three stakeholder meetings as forums of exchange of knowledge, experiences and best practice. Priority actions to tackle identified issues should be established and agreed by all stakeholders.
  • Developing, organising and evaluating pilot training courses, particularly addressed to Member States' competent authorities, zoo management and zoo associations.
  • Supporting Member States’ competent authorities in using peer-to-peer mechanisms to spread best practice and transfer of know-how on issues related to licencing and inspection of zoos.

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