The conservationist Damian Aspinall, the Chair of the Aspinall Foundation and son of John Aspinall (an English zoo and casino owner and founder of Howletts Zoo and Port Lympne Zoo in Kent, England), has criticised zoos saying there is “no justification at all to keep animals in captivity”.

Howletts Wild Animal Park (formerly known as Howletts Zoo) was established by John Aspinall as a private zoo in 1957, and then the animal collection, known for its captive gorillas, was opened to the public in 1975. Another estate at Port Lympne near Hythe in Kent was purchased in 1973, opening to the public as a Zoo in 1976. These zoos were somehow unorthodox for the encouragement of close personal relationships between staff and animals. After John Aspinall died in 2000, his son took over.

Now, Damian Aspinall is very honest about what he thinks about zoos. He said to ITVx, “I think it’s a very sad experience that any animal today is in captivity, we have to look back over the last 30 to 40 years and understand that it’s been a terrible mistake. If you look at the 5,500 species in zoos, 95% are not critically endangered so why are they there? Then if you look at the critically endangered species, there’s 45 of them and only four are viable. The rest of them are diseased, hybridised or genetically bottlenecked.”

Damian was speaking following an ITV News investigation into Jersey Zoo (which claimed to be a conservation institution) that exposed allegations of animal welfare concerns and a “toxic workplace” culture. He added, “I urge all zoos to be honest with the public and if they’re not doing conservation work then just be honest and say, ‘look, we’re a sanctuary for animals, there’s no conservation value’, or ‘we’re a business and we’re here to put animals in captivity open to the public’, but to mislead the public that they’re doing great conservation work is simply not true. It’s not just a question of the Durrell Zoo now no longer interested in conservation, I think it’s very hard to justify that there’s any conservation value in any zoo.”

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.