We analysed the reports of government-appointed inspectors from 192 zoos between 2005–2008 to provide the first review of how animal welfare was assessed in British zoos since the enactment of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. We examined the effects of whether or not a veterinarian was included in the inspection team, type of inspection, licence status of the zoo and membership of a zoo association on the inspectors’ assessments of animal welfare standards in five areas that approximate to the Five Freedoms. At least 11% of full licence inspections did not comply with the legal requirement for two inspectors. The inspectors’ reports were unclear as to how animal welfare was assessed, whether all animals or only a sub-sample had been inspected, and were based predominantly on welfare inputs rather than outcomes. Of 9,024 animal welfare assessments across the 192 zoos, 7,511 (83%) were graded as meeting the standards, 782 (9%) as substandard and the rest were not graded. Of the 192 zoos, 47 (24%) were assessed as meeting all the animal welfare standards. Membership of a zoo association was not associated with a higher overall assessment of animal welfare standards, and specialist collections such as Farm Parks and Other Bird collections performed least well. We recommend a number of changes to the inspection process that should lead to greater clarity in the assessment of animal welfare in British zoos.
- animal welfare; captive wild animals; government inspections; local authority; risk factors; Zoo Licensing Act