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It seems like a weekly occurrence that one of the many news channels and media outlets around the world will report another member of the public has injured themselves climbing into an animal enclosure. From trying to pose for a ‘selfie’ with a Jaguar, to wanting a closer look at a Panda, isn’t it about time that we looked at whether Zoo Fencing should be designed to protect the public, or in fact; if the real reason is to protect these endangered species from the public?

It was only a few years ago that poachers broke into the white Rhinoceros enclosure at Thoiry Zoo Safari and killed ‘Vince’ a four-year-old Southern White Rhino before sawing off its horn. With a market value of between £25,000 to £32,500 per horn the threat of more daring raids is already being considered by zoos across Europe. Southern White Rhinos are considered Near Threatened status with less than 20,000 members left on the planet.

  • A year before the world was shocked by the killing of Harambe at Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. A three-year-old boy climbed a 3-foot-tall fence before crawling to the end of the Gorilla moat and falling into the enclosure. Seeing no other option to save the child, a zoo worker shot and killed the 17-year-old Western lowland gorilla, a critically endangered species.

    In March 2019, a woman was seriously injured after crossing a barrier at Wildlife World Zoo in Arizona. Approaching the enclosure to take a photograph with a Jaguar, the animal swiped out through the enclosure fencing and clasped its claws into the ladies’ arm. Thankfully, whilst the lady only received deep cuts to her arm the zoo also confirmed that the Jaguar would not be euthanised. This was the second incident with the same Jaguar due to someone crossing the barrier.

  • What becomes apparent, via hindsight; in all these cases is the protection of the animals and the public was failed on many levels. The existing security system had conformed to the requirements of the local planning and zoological standards; but in all cases the effort required to enter the enclosure or surrounding areas required very little work. The proof is in the pudding, that in all cases the physical security was upgraded after the incidents.

    Sadly, the story doesn’t end there. The number of animals escaping their enclosures seems to also be on the increase. Chimpanzees fashioned a ladder to escape their enclosure at Belfast Zoo whilst a Snow Leopard had to be shot dead after escaping from Dudley Zoo. In these cases, the failure of the physical security posed not only a danger to the animals but also the public at large. Sadly, zookeeper Sarah McClay was killed at South Lakes Wild Animal Park aged only 24-years-old when a tiger managed to get through an unlocked gate.

  • So what can be learnt from these cases? Do zoos have to plan for every eventuality? Must they be prepared to protect against any incursion from the members of the public or even worse poachers? Do they have a duty of care that enclosures security should be reviewed on a regular basis?

    As a company that has been designing and manufacturing Zoo Enclosure Fencing and Gate systems for many years, we know that systems need to change and be updated. Single gated entry has now almost completely disappeared to be replaced by airlock entry to prevent animal escapes and protect zookeepers.

    But what do you do when your enclosure is almost 15 years old? Where does the risk lie and can you predict it? That really is the crux of The Hot Topic, with a balancing act between protecting the public and the animals at the same time unlike commercial security it is much harder to make changes to the perimeter as the threat levels do…