Fears Brexit Will Stop Zoo Breeding Programmes

5 April 2017, 10:10 | Updated: 5 April 2017, 12:57

Twycross Zoo

The future of endangered species in British zoos could be in trouble if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal.

That's according to the sector's chief, Kirsten Pullen, who's warned zoos in the UK could soon lose the right to breed and protect some of their most vulnerable species.

At the moment zoo animals have free movement across the EU, which means they have a better chance of finding a breeding partner because of the bigger gene pool.

But Ms Pullen, who's the Chief Executive of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums says this could change, making it harder for zoo keepers to find mates for their animals.

“It is hard to pinpoint a particular species within our breeding programmes because all of them could potentially be impacted if we suddenly can't deal on a European basis, or it's much harder.''

Animals from zoos in the Midlands have recently benefited from access to EU breeding schemes.

David Beeston from Dudley Zoo told Heart any changes in free movement of zoo animals will make their lives more difficult.

"The cost, the expense and the time involved could make it much, much harder. It could take so long to go through the bureaucracy that it would make the move non-viable."


A Sumatran tiger named Joao moved from Krefeld Zoo in Germany to Dudley Zoo in 2013, where he has been partnered with his 'girlfriend' Daseep.

Meanwhile, the all-female herd of elephants at Twycross Zoo in the East Midlands are currently getting ready to move to the continent as part of the European Breeding Programme.

But Ms Pullen's warning that UK zoos could soon find themselves out of the club.

She says if Brexit blocks free movement for UK animals, they'll have to negotiate deals country by country - which could take a lot more time and trouble. 

She thinks there's a risk of in-breeding and that numbers of babies born could fall dramatically, which could undermine conservation efforts.

Apparently smaller species such as endangered rodents, which have shorter life spans and limited breeding cycles, could be worst affected.

It's not all bad news though. If UK zoo animals can't breed in Europe anymore, they might be able to look further afield. 

Ms Pullen says commitment to EU breeding schemes has in the past limited how far animals could travel to breed - but in the future UK zoos could work with Australia and the US.

But whatever happens, she wants the Government to give zoos more information about what they're planning. 

She thinks the Government's "lack of clarity'' about its vision for Brexit is "very concerning'' and causing a lot of uncertainty for the sector.

A Government spokeswoman said, "We're firmly committed to safeguarding and improving our animal welfare record - as we secure the best EU exit deal for Britain."