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The keeping of wild animals in zoos

The European Union has adopted common minimum standards for housing and caring for animals in zoos with a view to reinforcing the role of zoos in conserving biodiversity.


Council Directive 1999/22/EC of 29 March 1999 on the keeping of wild animals in zoos.


Many live animals in European zoos are not always kept under acceptable conditions.. It is therefore important to improve regulations concerning the keeping of animals in zoos to ensure the protection of wild fauna and the preservation of biodiversity while retaining a role in education of the public and scientific research.

"Zoos" are defined as all permanent establishments where live animals are kept, with a view to public display for seven days per year or more, with the exception of circuses and pet shops; also those establishments that the Member States exempt from the requirements of this Directive by virtue of the fact that they do not display a significant number of animals or species to the public and that this exemption does not undermine the objectives of this Directive.

The Directive aims to protect wild fauna and to preserve biodiversity by inviting Member States to take measures concerning the granting of licences and the carrying out of regular inspections in European zoos in order to check that the conditions related to the granting of licences are met.

In order to obtain an operating licence, zoos must:

  • participate in research whose results benefit the preservation of species and/or exchange of information on the conservation of species and/or reproduction in captivity, (repopulation, reintroduction of species to the wild, etc.);
  • educate and raise awareness of the public on the conservation of biodiversity (information on the species and their natural habitats);
  • keep animals in a manner that meets their biological needs and ensures the preservation of different species (providing species specific enclosures, suitable veterinary care, nutrition, etc.);
  • prevent certain animals from escaping and prevent intrusion of outside pests;
  • keep up-to-date records of the animals kept in the establishment appropriate to the species recorded.

All zoos must hold a four year licence following the entry into force of the Directive, or, in the case of new zoos, before opening to the public.

The competent authorities of the Member States will carry out an inspection before granting, refusing or extending a licence or modifying it substantially.

In the event of non-compliance with the legal requirements, the competent authority will bar public access to the zoo or to a part of the zoo.

In the event of closure of the zoo, even partially, the competent authority will see to it that the animals concerned will be treated or moved under conditions which the Member States judge appropriate and compatible with the provisions of the Directive.


Act Entry into force Deadline for transposition in the Member States Official Journal
Directive 1999/22/EC



OJ L 94 of 9.4.1999


Decision 2007/598/EC of the Commission of 28 August 2007 concerning measures to prevent the spread of highly pathogenic avian influenza to other captive birds kept in zoos and approved bodies, institutes or centres in the Member States [Official Journal L 230 of 1.9.2007].

Last updated: 25.11.2008
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