Published: 12 September, 2013
by WILLIAM McLENNAN
LONDON Zoo bosses are under pressure to scrap a controversial operation that involves cutting the wings of new-born birds to stop them flying away.
The zoo revealed that it carries out “pinioning” – which involves amputating part of a bird’s wing – on flamingos and pelicans kept at the zoo in Regent’s Park. It has been described as “cruel mutilation” by wildlife experts, and government guidelines say that it should “not be undertaken lightly”.
While the process is legal, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which licenses and inspects zoos, said that they should have an “ethical policy and code of practice regarding pinioning and be prepared to defend it”.
The Zoological Society of London, which runs the zoo, said the quick operation carried out on 29 flamingos and six pelicans allowed them to live in large, open enclosures. But the zoo plans to build a new exhibit that will remove the need for pinioning.
Marylebone-based charity Captive Animal Protection Society has been compiling a list of all zoos that carry out the operation.
Its director, Liz Tyson, said: “Mutilating animals to hold them captive is never acceptable – much less necessary.
“The birds mutilated by the zoo industry will never fly. There is no excuse. It must stop.”
In a response to the charity, ZSL said the operation was “necessary” to “provide the most suitable and spacious habitats”.
But Ms Tyson described this as “misleading” and said technology now exists to enclose areas large enough to prevent birds having to undergo the operation.
Dr Andrew Kelly, who has worked as a wildlife consultant at various charities, including the RSPCA, said: “Pinioning is a cruel and unnecessary practice.
“It is a significant mutilation that has severe long-term consequences for the bird, depriving it of its most basic natural behaviour – the ability to fly.
“In my opinion it is simply unethical to carry out this practice simply to keep a bird in captivity”
A spokeswoman for the zoo said: “The procedure is just for a small number of our flamingos and pelicans – who are all thriving and breeding well.
“It’s because we have these large, open enclosures. So we need to do that procedure to make sure that they don’t fly away.”
She added: “It is part of our plans to create new exhibits that are designed so we don’t need to do this.
“But any of the pinioning we do is done by a vet when they are a few days old and just involves snipping the top of one of the bird’s wings a little bit.
“It’s literally just a little snip and they are absolutely fine afterwards.”