Strict zoo standards sought
An undercover RSPCA operation found some animals were poorly treated across Europe
Zoos across Europe could be forced to improve conditions for animals if new standards to be discussed by the EU go ahead.
Ministers say proposed EU Commission plans for voluntary measures must be toughened into legislation following new reports of cruelty and mistreatment at supposedly reputable zoos across the continent.
As president of the of the European Union, Britain is calling for the crackdown after years of lobbying by animal rights campaigners.
Unlike these tigers, some are housed in concrete-floor cages
Growing public disenchantment with the plight of wild animals in captivity has added pressure for action.
Environment ministers are being urged at a meeting in Brussels on Monday to set minimum legal standards and to ensure they are adhered to. Only zoos satisfying EU animal welfare inspectors would receive a licence to operate.
The BBC's Emma Udwin reports on the EU proposals (0'53")
As it stands, the "Zoos Directive" only recommends standards, but Britain is expected to insist that the EU should go further.
Presiding over the meeting, the UK's Environment Secretary Michael Meacher, is seeking wide enough support to push through legally-binding measures.
RSPCA finds mistreatment
More than 1,000 zoos fall within the boundaries of the European Union but only a few member states have introduced laws which are enforced.
Even then, after a major undercover operation using video cameras last year, the RSPCA found cases of mistreatment.
It named Basildon Zoo in Essex as failing to meet expected welfare norms and described the elephant enclosure at London Zoo as "appalling".
Britain wants extra protection for zoo animals
In a detailed report, the organisation found many zoos across Europe housed distressed animals in poor conditions and failed to provide medical attention even when animals were obviously ill.
Rome Zoo, two in Paris and one in Genk, Belgium were singled out as among the worst offenders.
A survey by the Born Free Foundation also found untreated animals, including an injured elephant in a Spanish zoo.
Some zoos displayed animals so old they could barely stand. Polar bears and big cats were also found in such cramped surroundings that they were reduced to pacing about in a psychotic state.
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