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The role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity

The role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity


Directive 1999/22/EC on the keeping of wild animals in zoos



  • It promotes wild animal species protection and conservation by strengthening the role of zoos in the conservation of biodiversity.
  • It includes rules for the licensing and inspection of zoos in order to ensure they respect the required conservation and protection measures.



  • A ‘zoo’ is defined as a permanent establishment where live wild animals are kept on public display for 7 days per year or more.
  • Pet shops and circuses are excluded from the directive.
  • EU countries can also exempt certain establishments from the directive if they do not display a significant number of animals or species to the public and if this exemption does not undermine the objectives of the directive.


The directive requires EU countries to take measures concerning the granting of licences and the carrying out of regular inspections in zoos in order to check that the conditions required for their granting are met.

In order to obtain an operating licence, zoos must:

  • participate in research whose results benefit the preservation of species, the exchange of information on the conservation of species and/or the reproduction in captivity (repopulation, reintroduction of species into the wild, etc.);
  • promote public education and awareness in relation to the conservation of biodiversity, particularly by providing information about the species exhibited and their natural habitats;
  • accommodate their animals under conditions that satisfy the biological and conservation requirements of the individual species by:
    • providing species-specific enrichment of the enclosures, and
    • maintaining a high standard of animal husbandry with developed programmes of preventive and curative veterinary care and nutrition;
  • prevent animals from escaping in order to avoid possible ecological threats (e.g. invasive alien species) to indigenous species, as well as to prevent the intrusion of outside pests;
  • keep up-to-date records of the animals in the establishment which vary according to the species.

Licensing and inspection

  • EU countries must adopt rules for licensing and inspecting zoos so as to ensure that the required conservation measures are met.
  • All zoos must hold a licence.
  • Each licence contains conditions to enforce the necessary conservation and protection measures.
  • EU countries’ competent authorities must carry out an inspection before granting, refusing, extending or substantially modifying a licence.
  • In the event that a zoo does not completely or partially comply with the legal requirements, the competent authority must bar public access to the zoo in its entirety or to the part of it that is concerned.
  • In the event of a partial or complete closure of a zoo, the animals involved must be treated or disposed of under conditions that the EU country concerned judges appropriate and compatible with the rules of the directive.

Good practices

In 2015, the European Commission published the EU zoos directive good practices document. This is designed to help EU countries improve compliance with the directive’s requirements through the sharing of experience and good practice.


It applies from 9 April 1999. EU countries had to incorporate it into national law by 9 April 2002.


Council Directive 1999/22/EC of 29 March 1999 relating to the keeping of wild animals in zoos (OJ L 94, 9.4.1999, pp. 24-26)

last update 06.06.2016