Animal welfare worries

It is likely that if you are considering booking a mobile petting zoo or animal party, you have a genuine interest in animals and their welfare. What you may not know is that the welfare of animals used in mobile petting zoos can be put at risk by their use in this way.


This meerkat was kept in alone in a filthy cat carrier

Wild animals need large, naturalist living environments where they can display their natural behaviours, be housed in appropriate social groups, and have their physical and behavioural needs met. There is no way of establishing whether these needs are being met by the majority of mobile petting zoo companies.

In 2013, the owner of one mobile zoo, which advertised itself as “award-winning”, was charged with 34 offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 as it was revealed that, behind closed doors, the animals were kept in squalid conditions when not being used in parties and shows. Whilst it is hoped that this is an extreme case, it is possible that other mobile petting zoo companies keep animals in poor conditions, which may result in severe animal suffering.

Many of us will recognise signs of stress or worry in domesticated animals such as cats and dogs as we are accustomed to sharing our homes with them and have learned to interpret their behaviour to some extent. Due to the difficulty in recognising the same reactions in different animal species, exotic animals such as reptiles and birds used during displays and parties may be stressed or frightened without us being aware.

The regular handling of animals, some of whom belong to wild, rather than domesticated, species can cause stress or injury. Animals such as owls, who are regularly used by mobile petting zoo companies, are naturally nocturnal and yet will often spend hours tethered to perches under bright lights before being passed around to be handled at parties and events.

Owls are kept tethered in broad daylight

Owls are kept tethered in broad daylight

Regular transportation is a known cause of stress for animals and yet those used by mobile petting zoo companies are transported on a regular basis. This alone may result in the welfare of the animals being compromised.

It is not just exotic animals that are at risk. Domesticated animals who are naturally timid, such as rabbits or guinea pigs, can also suffer stress due to repeated handling or as a result of introduction to strange, noisy or otherwise highly stimulating environments.

Mobile petting zoo companies offer your child the chance to get up close and personal with unusual animals. Whilst this may be an exciting experience for children, for the animals it may be frightening and stressful. For the animals it means being regularly transported from place to place and may involve being held in poor living conditions for their entire lifetimes.

If you are thinking of booking a mobile zoo company, please reconsider and, instead, explore the animal-friendly alternatives section of this website!

Mobile zoo legislation

In 2018, instead of banning mobile zoos and similar activities, the English government introduced a licensing regime, the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. Anyone who displays or exhibits animals for commercial purposes in England must obtain a license from the relevant local authority. This includes mobile zoos, bird of prey displays and exhibitions.

License holders are inspected every one to three years, depending on the local authority and the level of risk identified. In Scotland businesses must register with the local authority under the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925.

Freedom for Animals does not believe licensing such activities work as they do not address the serious animal welfare issues. The inspection regimes are inconsistent between local authorities, with some seeing licensing as a tick-boxing exercise with inspectors (often an environmental health officer) not qualified to understand the welfare and behavioural needs of the animals they are inspecting.

Regardless of the regulations, it is out-dated and simply cruel to use animals as props for entertainment.