We will now hear oral evidence from Dr Alison Cronin MBE, director of Monkey World; Dr Simon Girling, chair of the Zoos Expert Committee, who will appear virtually; and Dr Jo Judge, chief executive of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. For this session we have until 11.25 am. Could the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?
Hello. I am Dr Jo Judge, the chief executive of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is the professional association for good zoos and aquariums in the UK and Ireland.
Q Thank you all very much for coming to give evidence; it is great to meet you. I will start with Alison and focus on primates to begin with. I do not know whether you heard the evidence from David from the RSPCA in the previous session, but he took the view that it would be preferable to have a blanket ban on primate ownership. I know that in the past you have thought about that very carefully, and you took the view that a licensing system would be preferable. Do you want to tell us more about your views on that?
Yes. Over the years of rescuing and rehoming primates from the British pet trade, we have come across numerous individuals who have reached out to us to rehome the primates that they have kept as specialist keepers. I mean that in the true sense of the word. They are hobbyists who are dedicated to the care and welfare of their animals. They keep them in zoo-style environments with indoor and outdoor enclosures and access to professional veterinary care and social groupings. They feed them appropriate diets, stay up to date with the most current literature, and keep them as a specialist keeper, often contributing to conservation programmes that are zoo based.
I have received numerous calls from people of that type asking me to rehome their primates because they are getting elderly or see their circumstances changing, and want to do the correct thing by their primates. In those circumstances, I have often asked those individuals to keep their primates until the situation occurs where they feel that they can longer look after them, because I have so many that are being kept in bird cages, in solitary confinement and in people’s sitting rooms.
For me, it was a case of being practical and acknowledging that primates can be kept by private individuals to a reasonable standard of welfare if the appropriate guidelines and legislation are set out. The problem in existing legislation is that all marmosets, all species of tamarin, titi monkeys and squirrel monkeys—totalling 66 different species of primate—can be bought and sold over the counter or on social media like budgies or goldfish. No offence to budgies or goldfish, but those are animals with higher sentience, family groupings and greater physical and emotional needs, so greater concern needs to be given.
I am trying to be practical. I am trying to offer what I consider to be reasonable adjustments to current legislation and employing existing legislation, which is the strongest in the country right now that protects captive primates—the Zoo Licensing Act. I have just tried to offer a practical thing. I am not concerned about making a political statement about where the animals are kept; I am simply concerned about how they are kept. To me, the most important aspect is the health and welfare of these animals, not who is keeping them.
Q Thank you; that is very helpful. Do you have views on the proposed transition scheme? The RSPCA talked to us about grandfathering rights. Do you have a view on how we should best move from the current system to the new system?
I think giving people the opportunity to make the circumstances correct is probably the right thing—again, I am trying to be practical. Because there is no registration system for said 66 different species of primate that can be kept, we do not know how many are out there right now. Some organisations have tried to put numbers on it, but they range from 1,000 to 5,000. Which is it? Actually, we don’t know. Where will all those animals go? Monkey World has taken in more than 120 primates from the British pet trade, in more than 25 years. I have taken in 15 just over the last two years.
The number of species and individuals is clearly increasing. In order to deal with the situation practically, if there are circumstances in which some of these shorter-lived primates—I am still talking about 12 to 15 years—can have their needs met in a captive situation, should these animals be allowed to live out their lives in what is deemed to be appropriate and reasonable circumstances, rather than just taking a categorical stance? Again, as I am on the frontline picking up the pieces, I am trying to offer a practical solution, when I know I already have over 100 primates on my waiting list.
Any form of this legislation will cause an increase in the numbers needing rehoming—that is just a fact. All organisations are agreed that something has to change so that the species with no registration system have some form of protection of their care and what they are provided. Everybody is agreed that something has to be done here, and we will do our best to accommodate and pick up the pieces.
Q You clearly have a wealth of experience in caring for primates. Do you feel we have tapped that experience to inform the new zoo standards? Has your voice been heard?
I have just recently—within the last few weeks—been taken on to the zoos expert committee. I have come in at a later stage, but I am impressed with what has been proposed. Perhaps contrary to what was stated earlier, it seems to me that the standards are put across a level playing field, focused on bringing perhaps the smaller zoos that are not ticking all the boxes up to the same standard, regardless of size.
I think I am pleasantly surprised, as a user of the Zoo Licensing Act, to see a bit more focus on conservation and spelling out what that is. I could go through details over and over again. In particular, recently I was very dismayed to see so many of the larger zoos in the country immediately claim, after only a few weeks of closure, that they would potentially have to euthanise animals if they did not receive financial grants from the Government. Our organisation is not a large zoo in comparison to most. I am dedicated to the care and welfare of my animals, whether it is for my lifetime or for one year, and I think that it is essential that zoos operate with a budget that enables them to close for one year. That is an obligation that they should have to the endangered species that they are protecting, and one on which they seem to have fallen short up until now. Details such as that are in the proposed legislation.
Q Thank you; that is very helpful. Jo, how do you feel about the arguments about a blanket ban versus a licensing system?
We would also support a licensing system. I agree with many of the points that Alison made about primates as pets. We think that you should be banned from keeping primates as pets in a domestic setting, but there are a number of responsible, registered—with BIAZA—keepers who keep their animals to a zoo standard, and their animal welfare is at the highest level. They play an important part in some breeding and conservation programmes. Although we fully agree that you should not be allowed to keep a lemur or marmoset in a birdcage in a living room, and would like to see that banned, we think that a well-resourced and effective licensing system is the way to go to enable the people who keep those animals at high welfare standards and contribute to conservation programmes to keep those animals. As Alison said, a complete ban would drive the trade underground and leave more animals in need of rehoming and more animals likely to be abandoned. We are very much in favour of banning them as pets but allowing a licensing system for responsible keepers.
Q I will move to Simon. Do you feel that the zoo standards have been drafted in consultation with the experts on your committee?
Yes, I genuinely do believe that that is the case. We currently have 12 members plus myself on the committee. The members cover a wide range of disciplines, from veterinary surgeons who have worked for many years and are recognised as specialists within the community to those who are working in a variety of zoo licensed premises—from larger zoos to smaller ones. We have members from academia, covering various areas of welfare, ethics and education, and we have local authority representation.
In addition, the standards have not been drafted purely by the committee. The committee has involved the zoo community, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. A number of members of BIAZA’s groups have contributed. These are just a few of them: the reptile and amphibian working group, terrestrial invertebrates, the native species research committees, veterinary working groups, elephant welfare groups and great apes welfare groups. We have widely consulted with the industry, from zoos to aquaria, and across a wide range and spectrum of different zoo licensed premises to ensure that the standards genuinely represent both what the industry wishes to drive forward and what we feel is important, which is improving conservation and welfare in zoo licensed premises.
I am very pleased to have new members such as Alison on board to bring their expertise and scrutiny and to bring different perspectives on these new standards, which I genuinely believe will improve welfare and conservation in zoo licensed premises in the UK.
Q Thank you. Do you feel that it is a good move to absorb the conservation standards within the other zoo standards?
The conservation standards have not so much been absorbed but created within the standards. There was very little reference to conservation in the standards originally. Zoos have given many different examples over the years of contributing to conservation, including simply donating money to organisations that carry out conservation on their behalf or, in some cases, breeding species that are not on any sort of IUCN red list and saying that that is conservation.
We do not believe that, in a modern zoo, that actually represents conservation, so the Bill provides an opportunity for us to more clearly define what conservation is and how zoos can implement that, and to tailor it to ensure that it reflects the size of the zoological collection. We would expect some of the larger zoos not only to collaborate with conservation measures, but actively to lead them. It is an opportunity, which I believe the standards reflect, to significantly increase the definition of what conservation is and to improve it within zoo licensed premises.
Q Great. Finally, are you aware that the consultation will start shortly and are you geared up for joining in with it?
Absolutely. Hopefully, the consultation will be out before the end of the year. It will be a 12-week process targeted to the industry and other bodies, such as local authorities that have a stake in the zoo world and veterinary organisations involved in it. There will be discussion—quite rightly so—and there will be some areas that people will want more detail on, but I am confident that the standards as they stand represent a significant improvement in clarity, particularly on welfare and conservation.
That will help when we are talking about local authorities potentially being able to implement penalties, because it will give them more teeth to deal with zoos that are genuinely failing. I am confident that the consultation will be out in the next month or so, so that we can get the standards into force. We have to remember that this is the first major change to the standards for nearly 10 years, so a significant amount of change has occurred.
May I come in on a couple of those points? ZEC has done a fantastic job and has involved different individuals from different BIAZA working groups in its consultation, but BIAZA itself has not been involved in the consultation and has not seen the majority of the standards yet. Those experts have been involved in developing the standards, but at the moment there is no requirement for any consultation when the standards are reviewed. We would like to see some assurance that when standards are reviewed, now and in future, there is wider consultation.
Q For what it is worth, I can give you the assurance that there will certainly be a consultation starting shortly. I believe you have been involved in some of the discussions about that.
Yes, we have, but it would be great to have a requirement set down somewhere that that will always happen when they are being developed rather than when they go out for wider consultation.
ZEC gives advice to the Government, and that advice is great, but there is no transparency about that at the moment. There is no requirement for it to publish its advice. We would like to see the advice around the standards brought into line with the new animal sentience committee, and it being given the ability to publish its advice, so there would be greater transparency, which would make the standards process more robust.
On moving conservation into the standards, we very much support the highest conservation requirements for zoos and aquariums. We believe that all modern zoos should provide impactful conservation, so we support that, but we would like assurances around consultation, transparency and accountability of the standards as they are reviewed.
Q Thank you for coming to give evidence to us today. I am still slightly confused about the group of people we are dealing with. I think we are all agreed that there is a group—of how many, we are not sure—who are keeping primates in entirely inappropriate conditions, and we want to clamp down on that.
However, I listened very closely to your evidence, and you both said, “a number of”. A number can be anything from one to quite a few. I am not at all clear how many people we are talking about who are, in your words, in a position to keep primates to zoo standards. I would really welcome a stab from both of you at how many people we are actually talking about. That goes back to my question to the RSPCA: who are they? They are clearly not the kind of people we are trying to clamp down on, who are keeping primates in totally inappropriate conditions. How many can do it properly?
In our experience over the years, I can only comment on the numbers and proportions I have seen. Specialist keepers who have reached out to us or that I am aware of are probably one in 30. It is a very small fraternity of people—the personal hobbyists, if you will—who are prepared to spend the amount of money, time and effort needed to keep these animals properly. It is not straightforward; you have to invest a lot of time and effort into it and have back-up resources for going on holiday, or anything like that. So the number of specialist keepers is very small.
What has happened in the last decade is that social media has driven the trade in keeping exotic pets—primates in particular—in households to increase someone’s social media standing and the like. It has got out of control, and I think everybody agrees that that is the frontline that needs to be tackled first. Then, perhaps, additional legislation to deal with any outstanding issues surrounding those specialist keepers might be a follow-on. However, I think we all agree that the frontline triage is to stop the over-the-counter trade of primates being sold in birdcages to be kept in sitting rooms in solitary confinement. I do not think anybody has a problem with that being the primary focus.
It is very difficult to put a number on it. We only have a handful of what we call our accredited associates, who are people who keep primates to that zoo standard in a private setting. There are also a number of sanctuaries that do not have a zoo licence because they do not allow visitors, which is what would tip them over into needing a zoo licence. At the moment, it is unclear how those sanctuaries would be affected by a ban. Presumably, with the licensing procedure, they would be able to carry on.
Those people are genuinely very passionate about their primates. The ones we deal with are very keen to be involved in conservation and breeding programmes; they are also people who will take animals that other people cannot properly house, and so on. They form a vital part of the safekeeping of primates in the UK. We do not know how many there are at the moment, but it is unlikely to be a massive number.
May I add one short comment? There is also an issue with pet shops and people taking advantage of loopholes in legislation by keeping primates in the pet shop, but not offering them for sale. Do those animals fall under the pet shop licence, or are they now in need of a dangerous wild animals licence, or the specialist keepers’ licence we are talking about? The whole issue surrounding pet shops needs to be tightened up. Also, as was mentioned earlier, there are all the farm parks that currently fall in between legislation. Are they zoos or not if they have a parrot and a marmoset? It is in those situations that animals are being neglected and falling short of legislation.
Q No, it is fine. I think we are basically agreeing that the number is very small, which means that the other group, those who are not appropriate, is massively larger. The question then becomes: what happens to all those primates in this situation? Again, it is the transition question. What would your view be on that?
There has to be a reasonable period over which this is going to be implemented. If there are welfare issues, obviously, that should be paramount and there should be rehoming and the ability for that. The difficulty will be the capacity for rehoming. I know that Monkey World, for example, is at capacity—if not possibly over capacity—a lot of the time because of the rehoming that it does. While zoos will assist wherever they can, the actual capacity within zoos is restricted because it is not easy to take a pet monkey and put it into an established social group of primates kept in a zoo situation. Zoos have long-term management plans for all those animals, and they have a carrying capacity. The worst examples need to be rehomed as quickly as possible, but having a system whereby people are checked and then there is a longer period—I think it is two years at the moment—to get those into better premises could be useful. However, it all has to come down to the welfare issue.
There is a further twist in the tail there too and it falls back to the ZEC committee and the zoo’s licensing. A lot of the animals have come via captive-bred animals from zoos. When we are talking about breeding primates for so-called conservation purposes—and sometimes it is not actually so—so-called surplus animals are created that are then rehomed at various rescue centres or sanctuaries that may or may not be licensed, or they find themselves into the pet trade. That is where I suppose my worlds are colliding. There needs to be tighter legislation in the ZEC committee, in my opinion, to limit and control the breeding of species that are not conservation priorities and to ensure that those animals—that the zoos are obligated to care for what they breed. That is just a moral principle that we live by at Monkey World: anything that is born at the park I am obligated to care for for its lifetime, unless I can find a home of better quality than we provide already. That is something that needs to be fully embraced throughout the zoos up and down the country.
In good, modern zoos, sending animals into the pet trade would never happen. It is against our sanctions. However, not all zoos are BIAZA zoos and the ones that do not adhere to those higher standards are the problem. It is those lower levels that we need to bring up to match the other standards. Within good zoos and aquariums, and the whole of BIAZA zoos and aquariums, breeding is very carefully planned and it can be done at a European level for conservation breeding, but they have to know what they are going to do with those animals when they breed them.
I think there is evidence of some danger of unintended consequences here in some of this. If I can just move on and include Simon. I am slightly troubled by this spectrum of sanctuaries, small zoos and farm parks, exactly as you have just been saying. Will the measures in the Bill result in a lifting of animal welfare standards in general, taking into account that spectrum that may or may not be covered by the legislation?Q
I genuinely believe that they will for a number of different reasons. The standards, as I am sure the Committee knows, have been altered to ensure that grey areas—ideas of best practice, so-called “shoulds” or “coulds”, suggestions that this is the best way to manage an animal—have been pretty much removed wholesale from the standards and replaced with “musts”. Consequently, it has inevitably resulted in an increase in standards throughout this document. I am confident that this new set of standards will improve the welfare of captive animals, including primates, and I certainly welcome the extension of welfare standards for primates from the zoo standards to all primates kept in captivity, just to echo what both Alison and Jo have said. Yes, I believe these standards will result in that and that may well result in some issues for some current zoo-licensed premises. They will have to improve their game or there may be the ultimate sanction of the local authority removing their licence if they do not come up to the new welfare standards.
It depends on the individual collection. They become the responsibility of the local authority in the first instance, because when the local authority removes the licence, it becomes responsible for the welfare and care of the animals. It then absolutely becomes a potential issue to rehome those animals to other zoological collections. As Alison has already acknowledged, many collections—zoos, sanctuaries and so on—are already at capacity.
We would expect that the standards will take some time to implement once they have been agreed, so there will be a lead-in period in which it would be plainly obvious to collections that the standards are improving. We sincerely hope that this will give everybody time to improve their game and to improve the welfare for their animals should it have fallen short of the new standards. Inevitably, yes, it may well result in animals needing to be rehomed, as Alison indicated.
Q Thank you, Chair. I declare an interest: with the all-party parliamentary group on zoos and aquariums, I successfully supported the levelling-up fund bid of Twycross zoo, which is in my constituency.
To summarise, I am concerned about the public’s perception around welfare. It sounds natural and very obvious to say, “Let’s ban primates as pets.” What we are hearing from you guys is that, practically, that is very difficult because they are complex animals that may build relationships with a specific keeper. You cannot suddenly move them into another group very easily. Alison, you pulled a face there—that is what I am interested by, because I am coming at it as a lay person. If we choose a licensing system over an outright ban, how can the Government explain that to the public with the understanding and nuance in the message that you have just put forward?
I would be perfectly happy to accept a ban, but I am not, as I said before, trying to make a judgment on where the animals are kept—that is not my purpose. I am here to speak for those who do not have a voice: the monkeys and apes. I am concerned about how they are being kept. I am just trying to stay laser-focused, so to me, it does not matter whether they are kept at Monkey World, at Twycross zoo, or in somebody’s back garden.
Depending on who they are or how wealthy they are, somebody’s back garden might have higher standards than either Twycross zoo or Monkey World. I am trying to be practical in saying, “That can happen; that is realistic.” Why should a person be stopped, simply because they are a private individual, from doing a good job, potentially in both conservation and welfare? Should they become incorporated, and then would it be okay for them to keep those animals? I am trying to stay focused on the purpose and intent of what is being proposed, not on the moral principle of whether these animals should be kept in captivity.
On your comments about which animals become attached to people, I suggest to you that if they have become attached to people, they are perhaps not being cared for in an appropriate manner, because they should be living with others of their own kind and living appropriate lifestyles as marmosets, tamarins, squirrel monkeys or capuchin monkeys. We have not encountered primates that we have not been able to rehabilitate. We are known around the globe for taking some of the most difficult species, including great apes, and rehabilitating them into large, natural—well, natural when living in captivity—social groups. It is possible to do; it takes a lot of time, effort and money to do, and you have to be dedicated to that purpose. That is where the rescue work that we do at Monkey World is different from the average—I do not mean that in a derogatory way—zoo or wildlife park: we have a specific focus, and it can be done.
Q We have heard from all three witnesses that this is going to drive up the standard of animal welfare. The danger of adding the conservation bit is that we are potentially a little blurred over what conservation looks like, and what standards are driven there. Could I ask you to comment on what the proposals will look like for conservation? Will it be a percentage of turnover? Is it the number of projects that you run elsewhere in the world? Is it the amount of expertise that you export? I guess that there is the danger that we need to be prescriptive, but being too prescriptive is problematic. [Interruption.]
Thank you very much. It is a thorny issue, and I am confident that the conservation measures that are in the proposed standards that will go out for consultation are significantly increased in content and clarity. At the same time, they are not saying things like, “You need to donate £X to conservation in order to tick a box.” They focus more on the meaningful conservation measures that organisations can carry out. It is about enhancing and encouraging zoological collections—zoo-licensed premises—to engage in the process of research and conservation.
That does not necessarily mean that some of the smaller and less financially robust zoological collections have to release wildcats into England, or something of that nature. It is tailored to ensure that they are encouraged to collaborate, share data and information, and get involved in such things as local wildlife trust research and projects that are on their doorstep, all of which can be meaningful conservation. It is not about breeding animals that do not appear on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red lists, and calling that conservation. It is not about simply giving money to projects and saying, “That’s our conservation,” or “We’ve sold so many gifts at the gift shop, and we’re generating income for conservation.”
It is about being able to demonstrate to the inspectorate when it comes round for the zoo licence that they are actually engaging. Some of it is about outputs and publications. That does not necessarily have to mean peer-reviewed publications, but it is about communicating what they are doing to the wider public, contributing to organisations such as BIAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, and wildlife trusts and so on in a meaningful way that demonstrates their engagement in conservation, rather than it just being a tick-box exercise. As you rightly say, that should be without saying, “No, no, no—you have to do this one very specific thing.” Hopefully, this will allow zoological collections—[Interruption.]
Order. Simon, that is a very comprehensive answer. I just do not want anyone to have missed what you said. I did not realise that we were going to have an ongoing commentary about fire and leaving the building. Did everybody hear that answer, or would we like to wait a little while until the noise has stopped and hear Dr Simon again? I feel that we should give you the courtesy of being able to hear your comprehensive answer. We will hold off, and then, if it is fine with everybody, can I add this time on to the end? [Interruption.] I cannot. Okay, I just wanted to check.
Good—silence. Dr Simon, the floor is yours. We were all glued to what you had to say; it sounded comprehensive.
That is excellent news. There is now a specific section within the standards that deals with conservation. That allows us to put more meat on the bone and to better explain what we mean by conservation: it is not about simply breeding animals that are not endangered and calling that conservation or about simply giving money, x pounds, to conservation. It is about being actively involved—rolling up your sleeves and getting involved with conservation.
Depending on the size of the zoo-licensed premises, that can be anything from reintroducing a species back into the wild, right the way through to actively engaging with universities, colleges and wildlife trusts by sharing data and getting staff involved in local conservation projects. It helps that there is a wide spectrum of activities that would qualify. It also means that it is not just about saying, “Well we exist and we generate income, and that is conservation because we have a zoo-licensed premises.”
I am hopeful that this will enhance conservation measures within zoological collections, make them easier to assess when the zoo inspectorate go out to grant licences and give confidence to the Committee that we are genuinely trying to drive up conservation standards.
Q In the previous answer, which was interrupted, you mentioned getting the message out to the public. The public are more aware of the situation, both with welfare and conservation. Do you foresee a traffic-light system, like we have in health or education with Ofsted, to say that this is adequate or that is good? Is a green, amber and red of conservation and welfare being thought about going forward, so that the public can make a decision about what they are going to see and what is being done? I appreciate that the issue is important for those looking at the standards, but getting that message across to the wider public would also be very interesting.
Yes, there are certainly many merits to traffic-light systems. I know that Jo and BIAZA have promoted a system similar to that, which will help the wider public understand conservation measures. We do not specifically address a traffic-light system within the conversation standards; we are trying to keep it to a series of “musts”, and then provide guidance on that.
An awful lot of very good conservation is done in zoos in the UK. However, no matter what is done, in a lot of cases we are not good at communicating about it to the wider public. Education is clearly one of the main planks of the zoo licensing system. Getting the message out there is a really important point: what are they doing, how are they doing it and what difference is it making? Is it having a measurable impact?
To add to that, Simon is right that BIAZA are looking at setting up an accreditation system, whereby we would not just be looking at animal welfare, but at the conservation, education and research outputs of zoos. There would be some kind of system, whether a traffic-light or Ofsted system, that would be recognisable to the public. They would be able to tell from that system exactly what the zoos and aquariums were doing. Through that there would also be much more education and information coming from BIAZA about what our zoos were doing, and making it so that the public were much more aware.
Q I have some quick-fire questions. I am intrigued, because breeding seems to be quite contentious, given some of the written evidence we have received and evidence we have heard today. I have some very technical questions. How effective are contraceptive methods—the Bill refers to “temporary contraceptive measures”—and how long is average gestation for a primate?
That varies; it depends on what species of primate you are talking about. For marmosets and tamarins, it can be anywhere from four months to six months, that kind of touch. The reproduction rate also needs to be considered. Marmosets and tamarins generally give birth to twins. It is sometimes triplets or even quadruplets, but the usual survival rate—in the wild, anyway—will be for twins.
The potential turnover of animals into the pet trade from breeders and dealers is high. As soon as infants are removed from a female who has given birth, she will immediately become receptive to the male and begin the process all over again, so you end up with females that are literally knackered from being used for breeding. It is quite tragic to see.
We vasectomise everybody we get in. That is far less invasive than a castration, or a hysterectomy for a woman. There are permanent methods, but there are also temporary methods that can be used, such as implants. Pretty much the same available forms of human contraception can be achieved in non-human primates.
Q One contention is the concern about licensing individuals and the risk. You mentioned that one benefit is for breeding programmes, but others, including the British Veterinary Association, which provided written evidence, seem quite concerned about the risk in allowing that to continue. Do you think there is an issue around that? Finally, do you feel that the length of time for the licence, and how the Bill does not at the moment require an annual check with a vet—
Being practical, that sounds untenable. The weight unloaded on local authorities has to be balanced. I am not sure that I see all this being dumped on the local authority on an annual basis. I think that every two years is acceptable. I would think that every six years is too long. I think that a fair medium has been struck.
For a licence? With interim checks, that probably is acceptable—these are rather long-lived animals —so long as those biannual checks occur and circumstances have not changed. Part of the evidence we supplied is that there should be an amendment to the Bill that if amendments to a licence are requested, such as an increase in numbers or species kept or a change or deviation, that would immediately obligate another local authority check before the licence was amended.
Previous witnesses this morning suggested that putting the burden of inspection on local authorities might create too great a burden. The example used was that perhaps a chap looking at the tandoori place in the morning would be inspecting this in the afternoon.
Q However, I think you suggested that the new legislation would narrow the field of legitimate keepers to the point where there would be a very small number nationwide—perhaps 100 to 150. Which view do you subscribe to: will local authorities face too great a burden, or will the number be so small that it is a manageable burden? I realise that those things are not mutually exclusive.
Potentially, at the outset, it will be rather large. If all the individuals who currently keep primates in what I would call a bird cage or a parrot cage in their house step forward to register their animals, I suspect that what would happen would not be a whole lot different from what currently happens. We will see the effect of people not continuing to buy the animals as the legislation has duration, with the trade being limited and the grandfather clause.
The people who keep animals in bird cages in their sitting room may not be aware of the new legislation. Will they then step forward to announce, “I’ve got a marmoset in a bird cage in my sitting room” to the local authority? I suspect that will not happen. In the end, they will only be turned over by the friends and neighbours who report them. Then it will be up to the local authority, and that is sort of where we are right now.
I am sort of wondering whether the changes in law will actually have a dramatic effect on the animals being taken in or local authorities being overstretched. It is impossible to say how it will play out—you would need a crystal ball. However, I suspect that it will not be a radical change from where we are. My immediate hope is that the trade in selling these animals for commercial exploitation will stop; over time, I hope that all this will wind down, so that all we have left are primates being kept in reasonable conditions in facilities that are up to zoo standards throughout the country. That would be the goal and target for me.
Q That is incredibly helpful, thank you. As a follow-up, I wonder whether you could both reiterate whether you feel that private keepers, when properly regulated, can provide the same standard of welfare as a small zoo. I think you have been pretty clear on that, but I would like to reiterate that point.
Yes, absolutely. I have witnessed it. It is rare that I turn down people’s request to rehome their primates if I am able to take them in. However, in some circumstances I have seen private individuals who keep their animals in extremely good conditions; that is why they have approached us—because either their circumstances are going to change or they are getting elderly, and before their health deteriorates they want to ensure the health and welfare of the monkeys they keep.
The individuals are so dedicated to those animals that, at that point, I have to say, “Look, we have to do frontline triage with marmosets in bird cages. Perhaps you should keep them. When the time comes, I assure you personally that I will look after your monkeys.” Inevitably, those dedicated keepers want their animals sorted and they want it right now. I have seen good, dedicated keepers.
Q So it is your view that the problem we are facing is people basically keeping monkeys in bird cages—not the good private keepers who maintain a high standard of welfare?
Correct, but those specialist keepers are very few and far between. My take-home thought for everybody here today is about the head of the snake: the unscrupulous breeders and dealers who do know how to keep the animals correctly and are capable of breeding them at a high rate, but who are simply churning them out in order to maximise their profits. That needs to stop now.
There is also a huge human toll that is not often discussed. Well-meaning members of the British public are being taken advantage of. A lot of the animals we rescue at Monkey World come to us from people who did not realise. Ignorance is no excuse but, at the same time, it is currently legal to buy a monkey over the internet or from a local pet shop. They are told it is just fine to take it home individually in a bird cage—
Order. We have come to the end of the time allocated for the Committee to ask questions and, indeed, for this morning’s sittings. I thank our witnesses on behalf of the Committee: a big thank you to Dr Alison Cronin MBE, director of Monkey World; to Dr Simon Girling, chair of the Zoos Expert Committee; and to Dr Jo Judge, chief executive of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Committee will meet again at two o’clock this afternoon in the Boothroyd room to continue taking oral evidence.