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Selling responsible zoos

Rhino at Chester Zoo
Rhino at Chester Zoo

How can agents be sure the zoos they are selling to customers meet international ethical standards? Charlotte Cullinan asks the experts.

Faced with the deadly threat of ruthless poachers, East Africa’s 700 eastern black rhinos are on the brink of extinction. However, the species has a determined ally 6,000 miles away at Chester Zoo.


Since 1999, the zoo has supported a range of projects in Kenya and Tanzania to help save the resident rhinos, including monitoring populations, education work and increased security.


Like many zoos and aquariums, it is now on the front line of animal and environmental conservation, and helping customers to support these organisations can make an educational and enjoyable addition to their holiday.


While laws governing animal welfare vary by country, one avenue for finding responsible and progressive zoos and aquariums is via regional professional zoological associations.


The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria has more than 350 members. Communications and membership manager David Williams-Mitchell says they are all thoroughly screened. Members also abide by standards and ethics codes, which include animal husbandry, enclosure size and how animals are acquired. They are expected to be actively involved in conservation, offer an imaginative education programme and, ideally, run research and breeding programmes.


Williams-Mitchell explains: “Good zoos and aquariums are no longer just collections of animals – they aim to take the legacy of the time when that was true and make a strong contribution to conservation, education and research.”


Dom Strange, head of commercial operations at Chester Zoo, agrees, adding: “We hope visitors see that we are more than a zoo, but also a conservation charity that aims to be a major force in conserving biodiversity. With 12,500 animals, our collection of artefacts and our first-hand experience of working with wildlife, we want visitors to take away important values and understand the significance of animal conservation.”


One way Chester Zoo engages visitors is through its Act for Wildlife campaign, which raised £40,000 in 2014 to support wildlife projects around the world, including the East African rhino work. Supporters are encouraged to make donations, and each admission ticket includes a contribution.

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