Zoos Accused of Starving Working Birds of Prey

By Gary Cutlack on at

Performing birds that zoom over our heads to impress children and adults are routinely starved of food so they are a little more obedient, it's claimed, with animal rights researchers saying modern bird of prey exhibitions are little more than old school circuses using and abusing their captive creatures.

This outing of shameful practises comes from pressure group Freedom for Animals, which says it found "shocking deficiencies" in the care of captive birds across the UK, birds that are denied the right to flight and can have their food and water intake limited in order to encourage them to perform. Birds in 75 per cent of the 95 zoos investigated were tethered to stop them, you know, flying away, which is a pretty mean thing to do to a creature that exists to fly. That's like making a human sit in a chair for all of its life.

Other findings include birds living in cramped conditions that don't meet the suggested three-wingspan space guidelines, limited access to clean drinking water, birds being starved "for days at a time" to ease their training, and many zoos encouraging the stroking of their owls and other birds of prey, despite the discomfort this causes them and the potential to damage their feathers.

One of the sadder paragraphs from the full report [PDF] says: "Many birds were seen chewing at the leg straps they were tied with, trying to escape. Many were trying to fly from the perch or a handler's arm to get away, a behaviour called bating. As well as being a natural stress response to a wild bird being restrained, bating can occur for reasons such as being startled, curiosity, impatience, or wanting to fly." [Independent]