Bornfree Foundation
July 2021

Evaluating the financial contributions of the Consortium of Charitable Zoos to in situ conservation.

“Zoos claim to be ‘Powerhouses in Conservation’, and zoo visitors would be forgiven for thinking that a large slice of the entrance fee they pay to visit a zoo is used to fund wildlife conservation projects. They also claim that the welfare of animals is of paramount consideration, so it would be reasonable to assume that they make meaningful financial provisions to ensure their animals can be cared for in times of crisis. However,
a close look at the publicly available accounts of some of the UK’s biggest charitable zoos reveals they provide far less funding to in situconservation projects, and are far less financially resilient to crises such as Covid-19, than many people think.

“Born Free’s new report “Zoos: Financing Conservation or Funding Captivity?” examines these issues in detail. The results will doubtless shock many people. It follows our recently-published report “Conservation or Collection?”, which revealed that the overwhelming majority of species kept in charitable UK zoos aren’t threatened with extinction, and that wild populations rarely benefit directly from the keeping of animals in captivity.

“Our findings once again highlight the fact that the conservation claims of even our best zoos are highly questionable, and that the UK zoo industry is in urgent need of real reform.”

Will Travers OBE,
Co-Founder and Executive President – Born Free Foundation


The Consortium of Charitable Zoos (CCZ) consists of nine leading British zoological societies. These are all charitable trusts registered with the Charity Commission. They all claim to share an ‘ethical purpose’, in contrast to privately run zoos which may differ in their mission and constitution.1


CCZ zoos spent on average just 4.2% of their total annual income on in situ conservation in 2019 (excludes money received from grants)

Grant money from external sources represents at least 66% of the total financial expenditure on in situ conservation by Consortium of Charitable Zoo members

On average, 6.6% of the money received via the sale of admissions (gate receipts & memberships) appears to go towards in situ conservation

CCZ zoos had financial reserves in place to cover the costs of temporary closure for an average period of just 2.7 months.


The Consortium of Charitable Zoos claim to be “progressive” and “powerhouses in conservation”.1 Throughout periods of lockdown due to COVID-19, stories have emerged of the potential impacts on conservation if zoos were forced to close permanently, including from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).2,3 Born Free’s previous report ‘Conservation or Collection’, published in May 2021, demonstratedthat the majority of species held and bred by CCZ zoos are not threatened with extinction.4 This current report highlights the fact that the financial resources CCZ zoos put into in situ conservation represent only a small proportion of their total income/expenditure, especially when compared to their expenditure on new animal exhibits. The publicity generated through the development of new animal exhibits may skew public assumptions about the resources zoos devote to in situ conservation. Much of the money which is put into in situ conservation comes from external grants rather than being generated through the zoos’ operational turnover.CCZ zoos are also poorly prepared to deal with the financial consequences of prolonged closure, such as that experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020 and 2021; on average, they hold less than three months’ financial reserves.This report aims to provide clear information to the public, facilitating informed decision-making on whether to visit a zoological collection, and whether further regulatory measures are needed to improve the operation of these and all licensed UK zoos.

Born Free is calling on the government to:

• Review the Zoo Licensing Act to ensure zoos operate in a financially stable manner, that financial contingencies are in place to care for animals in the event of closure, and clear, meaningful and enforceable conservation criteria are in place which zoos are required to comply with.

To achieve this would require:

o Regular financial assessments of zoos being incorporated into the licensing and inspection process;

o The creation of a Zoo Insurance Bond to ensure the care and welfare of animals at a zoo which is forced to close, and their humane dispersal to other appropriate facilities during what could be a protracted winding-up period;

o The development of meaningful criteria for the in situ conservation contribution required of zoos, including a minimum financial commitment by zoos to in situ conservation, representing a proportion of the income generated via the operations of the zoo (excludes grants from external bodies).


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all aspects of life throughout the world, and the zoo industry is no exception. Zoos and aquariums across the UK have had to close for prolonged periods of time and some have been vocal about the financial struggles they have faced.5-7 Most zoos are not charities, and ultimately rely on visitor income to secure basic operating revenue, generate profits and maintain their financial viability. Some may have received a degree of support thanks to the generosity of the public and others, with many openly appealing for financial assistance.8-10 As of May 2021, 56 zoos had also received support from the government’s Zoo Animals Fund, although the zoo industry has argued that this financial support was inaccessible for many.11,12 This pandemic relief fund closed at the end of May 2021, after awarding a total of £12m to eligible zoos.13 An examination of the finances of zoos that are members of the Consortium of Charitable Zoos and are established as charitable organisations, and whose annual reports are therefore publicly available via the Charity Commission (responsible for registering and regulating charities in England and Wales), provides an insight into the financial contributions made by CCZ zoos to in situ (in a species’ habitat and range) conservation.14 Thesame annual reports also give an insight into the degree of reserves held by CCZ members in preparation for enforced closure and their ongoing ability to feed, and care for the animals they are responsible for.


The Consortium of Charitable Zoos consists of nine British zoological societies which, between them, operate 13 zoos (Appendix 1). They represent some of the largest zoos in the UK in terms of revenue and collection size. In 2005, they commissioned a report by a company specialising in lobbying and securing external funding for the zoo industry, entitled, “The Manifesto of Zoos,” in an attempt to, “establish the overall value and true ‘public good’, actual and potential, available to British Society through the progressive UK zoos.”1,15 This report was challenged by Born Free in 2007 with the release of “Committed to Conservation? An overview of the Consortium of Charitable Zoos’ in situ conservation dividend.” Born Free’s report concluded that “the claims that the “Progressive zoos are leaders in conservation, not followers” is not supported by the evidence, if commitment of resources to in situ field conservation is the criteria used.”16 Today, the zoological societies within the CCZ continue their association and during the pandemic collectively called on the UK government to review the Zoo Animals Fund.17

Like many other zoos across the country, every CCZ member has issued an appeal for donations from the public during their enforced closure resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.18-27 As of April 2021, these fundraising efforts have reportedly raised in excess of £4.8 million for CCZ member zoos, with additional funding likely to have been donated directly via the zoos’ websites. Despite this, CCZ members have continued to appeal for further funds. Dudley Zoo and Castle announced in September 2020 that they had been forced to use, ‘all
the cash reserves…set aside for development work to survive’
.28 Living Coasts, run by the Wild Planet Trust, closed permanently in June 2020 blaming “falling visitor numbers and the forced closure of all its zoos due to COVID-19”.29 This led to an admission from the Wild Planet Trust that some animals may need to be euthanised before announcing four days later that new homes had been found for all animals within the collection.30,31


In 2003, the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 (ZLA) was amended to incorporate aspects of the 1999 EC Zoos Directive.32 The Directive requires zoos to undertake conservation and education measures. Section 1A of the ZLA currently requires zoos to participate in at least one of five conservation measures to meet their licensing obligations:
(i) Research resulting in conservation benefits for a species,
(ii) Training in appropriate conservation skills,
(iii) Exchanging information which relates to species conservation,
(iv) Captive breeding (where appropriate),
(v) Repopulating or reintroducing a species into the wild (where appropriate).

Guidance is provided to zoo operators in the Secretary of State’s Standards for Modern Zoo Practice,
the Zoos Expert Committee Handbook, and the World Associations of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) Conservation Strategy, among other sources.33-35 Throughout the pandemic, a number of zoos have publicly claimed that they are going to have to suspend their conservation and education work, in spite of this being a license requirement.36,37

One area of conservation which zoos could suspend without legal ramifications is their financial contribution
to in situ conservation. Currently, zoos are not obliged to financially contribute towards in situ conservation in order to meet their conservation requirements.33 Previous research revealed that CCZ members contributed
4 – 6.7% of their income to in situ conservation, well below the public perception that UK zoos spend around 25% of their income on conservation in the wild.16 An independent survey carried out in 2017 found that UK zoos spend less than 10% of what their visitors expect on conservation.38 In 2015, the WAZA Conservation Strategy recommended that zoos “develop an operational budget that supports conservation over the long term and is not solely dependent on external donations.”35 Their recommended contribution was just 3% of a zoo’s annual operating budget. While financial contributions are by no means the only measure of support for in situconservation, greater financial support increases the likelihood of zoos contributing to successful conservation.39 One CCZ member recently stated, “progressive zoos like ours are powerhouses in conservation.”40 It is important that statements such as this are contextualised and validated, especially where they are being used to encourage financial support.

This study attempts to establish the financial contributions of CCZ members to in situ conservation pre-COVID-19, and to examine their financial preparedness in the event of closure to the public.


The 2019 annual reports of the 13 zoos within the CCZ were obtained from the Charity Commission website and reviewed. In the case of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the annual report was obtained directly from their website. Financial information relating to admissions (gate receipts and memberships), other sources of income, and outgoings including contributions to in situ conservation, were extracted, where possible. Admission prices as of April 2021 were obtained from the zoos’ websites.

As with previous studies, we found that the financial information provided in zoos’ annual reports is often ambiguous, which makes the determination and breakdown of income and expenditure challenging.16,41 Nevertheless, the extraction and analysis of the available information provides a useful insight into the financial contributions made by CCZ member zoos to in situ conservation.

Where it was clear that grants received by CCZ members from government or third parties were provided specifically for in situ conservation purposes, these were subtracted from their total conservation expenditure. For example, The Zoological Society of London’s (2019) annual report states, “Our field conservation, science and research work in the UK and overseas is funded by grant income from a wide range of donors including government agencies, institutional donors, trusts, foundations and private individuals.” In some cases, zoos recorded grants in combination with capital projects and equipment. For one zoo it was not possible to determine expenditure on conservation as it was recorded within ‘Costs of charitable activities,’ which included costs of caring for animals within the zoo, maintaining infrastructure, education and research. Another referred to a fund which had donated a cumulative figure over a 13-year period, therefore an average annual expenditure was calculated. Others combined conservation with education, research, science or a combination of the three. These figures were included in the analysis as estimates. As a result, the figures provided here are likely to overestimate CCZ financial contributions to in situ conservation.


The results indicate that in 2019 zoos in the CCZ:

  • –  Had a combined income which exceeded £181 million (n = 13)
    Of which, over £89 million was generated via admission charges (n = 11)
  • –  Received over £14 million in grants towards conservation projects (n=9)
    Grant money equated to at least 66% of the total expenditure on in situ conservation by CCZ members
  • –  Spent just 4.2% of their total income (excluding grant funding), or 6.6% of the money generated via admissions (gate receipts & memberships), on in situ conservation (n=12)
  • –  Of the mean CCZ adult admission price of £19.11, only £1.26 – £1.39 appears to go towards conservation in the wild. One CCZ zoo appears to contribute as little as £0.07.
  • –  Several CCZ members are spending millions of pounds on new exhibits. For example, Chester Zoo spent £40m on their Islands project which opened in 2015, and Edinburgh Zoo has reportedly spent £2.8 million on its new giraffe enclosure, figures which vastly exceed their annual in situ conservation contributions.
  • –  CCZ zoos had financial reserves in place to cover the costs of temporary closure for an average of 2.7 months (n=11)


In Situ Expenditure

Of the nine zoological societies within the CCZ, only two reported an exact figure for their expenditure on in
conservation in 2019. By comparison, eight of the nine zoological societies reported a figure within their annual reports in 2005.16 The reasons for this change in reporting are unclear. Until 2017, Chester Zoo reported in situ conservation expenditure as a category (Field Conservation Programmes) alongside Animal & Botanical collection, Science & Education, Fundraising and Catering & Retail.42,43 Expenditure on each category was reported as a monetary total and/or a proportion of total expenditure. However, since 2018, in situ conservation has no longer been reported individually, but rather has been combined with science and education.44 It is therefore no longer possible to determine exactly how much Chester Zoo is spending on in situ conservation. Based on previous years, a figure representing less than half of the reported total conservation, science & education expenditure would appear to be a reasonable estimate (Figure 1). This raises the question as to why a zoo which has described itself as a ‘conservation powerhouse,’ has become less specific and transparent about the financial contributions it makes to in situ conservation.40 If zoos play a key role in species conservation, as they like to claim, they should be transparent about their financial contributions to in situ conservation.

A closer analysis of CCZ annual accounts reveals that, for two of the nine societies, grant income from external sources equated to 79.8% and 65.6% of their conservation expenditure in 2019. One spent only 56% of its allocated conservation budget in 2019. With over two-thirds of the money being spent on in situ conservation originating from external grants, the role of zoos and their contribution to conservation from the housing of so many species in captivity is questionable. The direct funding of in situ conservation programmes by granting bodies would be a more efficient way of ensuring they can meet their objectives. Jeweller Tiffany & Co. announced in April 2021 that they had donated over £7 million to the Wildlife Conservation Network through its ‘Save the Wild Collection.’45 Since the jewellery collection was released, this equates to the equivalent of approximately £1.75 million for in situ conservation funding per annum. This figure exceeds eight of the nine CCZ members’ financial contributions to in situ conservation and does not involve the display of wild animals in captivity in order to generate the money. With zoos contributing so little (as low as 4.2%) of their generated income to in situ conservation, and their animal collections consisting primarily of non-threatened species (73.4%), their importance to in situ conservation would appear to be overstated.4

Zoos should also make it clear to the visiting public what proportion of their admission fees and other expenditure is used for authentic conservation purposes. The proportion spent on in situ conservation by
CCZ zoos appears to have changed little since Born Free previously examined this issue in 2007, equating to between £1.26 – £1.39 per average adult entrance ticket, with one CCZ member contributing as little as £0.07 per admission. It is interesting to note that when purchasing a ticket to one of these zoos online, typically two types of standard adult ticket are offered: one with a donation and one without. Ten of the 13 zoos either display the ticket with donation as the first option or have the option of donating pre-selected (such donations are also eligible for an additional 25% of taxpayer’s money in Gift Aid, which is not included in this report’s calculations). Language underneath states that a voluntary donation helps to, “support our conservation efforts,” or similar.46 Such language is used by eight of the 13 zoos, albeit it does not specify what proportion of the donation will
be used to support in situ conservation directly. As the typical donation added some 10% to the ticket price, and this study found approximately 6.6% of gate charges went to in situ conservation, it would suggest that
at least part of this donation is staying within the zoo, presumably to help fund new exhibits and other such infrastructure.

New Exhibits vs In Situ Conservation Funding

On its website, BIAZA states that its members contribute approximately £24 million to over 800 field conservation projects annually.47 As of the start of 2020, BIAZA reported having 117 members within its association.48 Therefore, the field conservation contribution of BIAZA members equates to, on average, approximately £205,000 per member, or just £30,000 per project. Given that some CCZ members, all of which are members of BIAZA, contributed considerably more than this figure, it would suggest some BIAZA members are making, at best, very limited financial contributions to field conservation projects.

At a global level, Gusset and Dick estimated in 2008 that zoos contributed approximately $350 million (£252 million) to “wildlife conservation”.49 However, the authors’ definition of zoo spending on “wildlife conservation” included spending on both in situ conservation and ex situ work without further explanation of what this entailed. Therefore, the direct financial contribution to in situ conservation is likely much less. Despite this, the figure is

still commonly used by zoos today in their attempts to justify their conservation credentials.40 Out of context,
this may appear to be a substantial sum. However, if one considers that there are estimated to be over 10,000 zoos globally, this equates to just over £25k per zoo per annum.50 Even if we assume that the best 10% of zoos, those that are members of zoo associations, are the primary contributors, this equates to just £250k per zoo per annum. We strongly suspect that while some zoos may contribute significantly more, many zoos contribute little or nothing.

To contextualise these figures, it is interesting to compare conservation expenditure with the recent expenditure by CCZ members on new exhibits within their institutions. Arguably the most notable recent new exhibit among CCZ members is Chester Zoo’s Islands. Dubbed the “largest zoo development project in the history of British Zoos,” it reportedly cost approximately £40 million.51 In 2015, the same year that this exhibit opened, Chester Zoo spent £1.5 million on in situ conservation.52 In other words, the exhibit cost more than 26 years’ worth of Chester’s in situ conservation expenditure, and almost double the contribution of all 117 BIAZA members to in situ conservation in a year. Likewise, it equated to 16% of what the worldwide zoo industry claims to spend on “wildlife conservation” per annum.49

Several other CCZ members have also spent vast sums of money which could, if redirected, have provided vital support for in situ conservation. In 2021, Edinburgh Zoo announced that it had spent £2.8 million on a new giraffe exhibit, almost double what they had reportedly spent on conservation and research in 2019 (including over £1 million in external grants).53 Other examples include the £1.5 million new tiger enclosure at Twycross, Welsh Mountain Zoo’s £1 million snow leopard enclosure, London Zoo’s £3.6 million Tiger Territory and Bristol Zoo’s Wild Place Project, which included the Bear Wood exhibit at a cost of £5 million (which represents over seven times Bristol Zoological Society’s contribution to conservation and research in 2019, including external grants).54-57 As previously mentioned, Dudley Zoo and Castle stated in September 2020 that they had been forced to use, ‘all the cash reserves…set aside for development work to survive,’ yet in April 2021 it was reported that work had started on a new £500,000 orangutan enclosure.28,58 When compared to the figures spent on new exhibits, the in situ conservation funding contributions of CCZ members looks very small.
The sad truth is that not only is this money perpetuating the unnecessary captive housing of species with
no clear conservation purpose, but it is also being diverted away from in situ conservation where it could provide significant benefit.

Zoo Insurance Bond

The welfare of animals held in captivity is paramount. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the financial short-sightedness of zoos and the zoo industry as a whole, and the need for the Zoo Licensing Act to be reformed with the requirement for licensed zoos to undergo regular financial assessments and contribute towards an industry-wide Zoo Insurance Bond.

The Zoo Licensing Act 1981 is now 40 years old and long-overdue a substantial review. One area in need of reform relates to the financial stability of zoos. There have been numerous stories since the pandemic began of zoos potentially closing or considering/initiating insolvency proceedings, raising the spectre of animals being euthanised.7,59-63 As of May 2021, five UK zoos have announced their closure since the COVID-19 pandemic began.12 Meanwhile animals must necessarily remain under the care of these institutions, at least until suitable arrangements for them can be made. Even pre-pandemic the operation of a zoo was a costly long-term commitment. Despite this, the zoos within this study had an average of just 2.7 months financial reserves to cover temporary closure. Shockingly, one zoo had as low as one month of financial reserves in place. In view of this, regular financial assessments should be incorporated into the licensing and inspection process. Similar procedures are already in place in other regions of the world; accredited members of the Australasian Zoo

& Aquarium Association (ZAA) must provide evidence within their accreditation application and subsequent inspections that they have the financial resources available to care for and rehome their animal collection in
the event of closure.64 Currently, if a zoo closes within the UK, it is the local Licensing Authority, and taxpayers, rather than the zoo itself, who foot the bill for the ongoing care of animals until they are rehomed or, if faced with no alternative, euthanised.32 Unlike other entertainment attractions, the costs of caring for the animals onsite and paying the staff responsible for their care will continue long after a zoo closes. Therefore, contributing toa Zoo Insurance Bond should be a key requirement within a revised Zoo Licensing Act.

A Zoo Insurance Bond, similar to ATOL protection established by the travel sector, should be designed to ensure the care of animals for up to three years after a zoo is forced to close, giving a realistic opportunity for the animals in the collection to be humanely and responsibly rehomed. Where sanctuary space is not available, animals could be distributed to other zoos, providing they offer appropriate levels of welfare and care. Such a Bond should not be used to prop up failing zoos, but rather to ensure animals are cared for and their welfare prioritised in the event of closure.

A Zoo Insurance Bond would also obviate the need for headline-grabbing statements that animals may be euthanised if a zoo closes, which has occurred during the current pandemic.30,62,63

A successful example of such financial planning has been demonstrated by the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), responsible for the annual Wimbledon tennis tournament. Since the SARS outbreak in 2003, the AELTC has been taking out pandemic insurance. Over the last 17 years, it has paid £25.5m into the policy but following the cancellation of the tournament in 2020 it received close to £114m.65

With many medical professionals warning that another pandemic is inevitable, now is the time for the zoo industry to begin planning responsibly for the next time they will be forced to close to the public, in order to avoid a repeat of the financial implications of COVID-19.


In conclusion, as this report clearly identifies, the contribution to in situ conservation work made by the CCZ, which, in all likelihood, represents the best zoos in Britain, is weak. All zoos should be required to contribute significantly to conservation, including in situ conservation, and a far greater proportion of their revenue should be used for this purpose.

It is also clear that the current reporting requirements that apply to zoos make it very challenging to fully understand the conservation work that they claim to fund and that greater transparency, including as part of the audit process, would be very beneficial.

Finally, it is a stark reality that CCZ zoos and, most probably, all licensed zoos, are ill-prepared for the potentially significant and negative impact of prolonged and enforced closure. The establishment of a Zoo Insurance Bond, designed to safeguard the welfare and care of animals held by zoos that are closing (whether as a result of financial issues or the withdrawal of their operating license), should be a high priority.

Original report: https://www.bornfree.org.uk/publications/zoo-funding-report