Brexit red tape is putting endangered animals at risk, zookeepers warn

Zoos are warning that post-Brexit legislation is hampering their efforts to protect endangered species.

Zoos in the UK have long played a vital role in European breeding programmes, including those involving some of the world’s most endangered species. But with Britain now outside the EU and classed as a third country, zoos are finding it difficult to obtain the certificates they need for certain animals due to mounds of post-Brexit paperwork and a slow process of collaboration with individual EU member states.

Many zoos across the country are warning that new legislation is hampering their efforts to protect endangered species. Importing animals from EU countries has become ‘hugely complicated and time consuming,’ zookeepers have warned.

Before Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, approximately 1,400 animals were transferred from Britain to Europe and vice-versa every year. In 2021, there was just 56 imports and exports and 2023 there were around 271 animal transfers.

Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and Wingham Wildlife Centre in Kent is among the centres impacted by post-Brexit rules. Markus Wilder, the curator at the park, spoke of how breeding programmes have become ‘much more complicated.’

“A lot of European zoos would be more interested in moving animals within Europe because they don’t have all those added extras.

“It is just so much more difficult for us to get animals from outside the UK – but obviously within the UK there are only so many animals that can be moved around,” he said.

Staff at Port Lympne Wildlife Reserve say they have been waiting for over a year before animals arrive as part of the breeding programs. Two orangutan brothers were forced to wait twice as long before being moved to Britain from unsuitably small enclosures in Switzerland because of Brexit red tape.

“Species like hoofstock are being required to go into a 30-day quarantine, which basically involves an animal being locked into a room that not even a bug has access to,” said Sophia Fagan from the reserve’s partner charity, the Aspinal Foundation.

 “You can imagine with things like giraffe and rhino, it is hugely detrimental to their welfare,” she added.

A spokesperson at Defra said: “We are clear that the movement of zoo animals between the UK and EU should continue and are engaging with them to agree a pragmatic resolution.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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