"We need to abolish all zoos," says Britain’s most famous zoo owner Damian Aspinall
Damian Aspinall wants his own industry phased out over the next 20-30 years, saying it was wrong to keep sentient creatures as lifelong “prisoners without parole”.
He said: “We’ve played God once when we took animals out of the forest for zoos, so surely we can play God again and try to get some of these animals home.”
Some 80 per cent of zoo animals are not in any sense endangered, he argued, adding they were either hybrid creatures with no conservation value, or on the contraceptive pill to stop them breeding and thereby pushing up costs.
Mr Aspinall, 53, said the millions of pounds spent on new enclosures could be better used breeding endangered species for a return to the wild.
It is a policy he has successfully followed at his Port Lympne and Howletts wild animal parks in Kent where he says “animals come first”.
A decision to rent out nearby land to two music festivals at Port Lympne, as reported in the Sunday Express last year, was a “mistake”, he added.
The Aspinall Foundation, founded by his late father John, the famous casino tycoon and close friend of Lord Lucan, has just returned nine gorillas to the jungle in The Gabon, a moment he described as “beautiful”.
“They just walked into the forest and started exploring,” he said.
“If you’re a true conservationist and you truly believe in nature, the ultimate goal is you don’t need zoos.
“They always throw education back at you though, but that’s total and utter nonsense.
“In the next 20-30 years, it would be a lovely goal to see zoos phased out or if they’re not, to see them truly doing what I believe is true conservation work.
“What I mean by that is that they only keep truly endangered animals.
“Zoos are stuck in a trap because they need to get the public in because otherwise they will go bust.
“And the only way they can get the public in is because the public is simply addicted to animal shows: they demand to see animals on display.
“But truthfully, if zoos did what was best for the animals, not what’s best for the public, they would be very different places.
“I absolutely feel sick in my stomach that zoos do animal shows.
“I come from a point of view where no animal should be here to entertain us.
“We’re supposed to be the intelligent species: surely we’re above having animals entertain our children.
“What we’re doing is culturalising our children to say it’s OK that man is the dominant species.
“It’s just wrong. We need to de-culturalise the public and phase zoos out.
“There’s role for Government in this.”
However, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums said its members already carry out “significant” conservation work in the wild.
“Captive populations can be used as advocates for conservation and environmental issues by raising awareness, and could one day be returned to their natural habitat, should this be appropriate,” its website adds.