Apes and other primates kept in captivity in zoos should be given the opportunity to withdraw from the eyes of the public when they feel the need, according to Flemish minister for animal welfare Ben Weyts. Weyts is currently in the process of adapting the laws on all animals in captivity. As far as primates are concerned, they will no longer be “exhibited,” but instead “housed”. They must also be provided with an interior space equivalent to one-quarter of the size of the outdoor space, where they can go to escape the eyes of the public.
Zoos will be able to apply for a derogation from the rule, but only if their primates are housed in collective space where the private area exceeds the legal minimum. And they must submit a reasoned case for their exception.
Weyts has already expressed an intention – presumably during the next legislature after the May elections – to ban the keeping of dolphins in captivity. According to his office, the process of tightening up the rules for other animals in captivity will come in stages. The ban on dolphins in animal parks goes further than a mere adaptation of the rules, he decided.
“The possibility for these animals to get away from the public is a major step forward,” Hilde Vervaecke, a behavioural psychologist and chair of the zoos committee which helped draw up the new rules, told Het Nieuwsblad. “The rules on the recognition of zoos were recently amended, and contain the requirement for animals to be able to withdraw into a private space.
Both of these regulations give the animal more autonomy, to decide whether to sit in the shade or the sun; to remain in the view of the public or to enjoy more privacy. Scientific research has shown that this sort of control over its environment is better for the animal’s welfare than if someone else makes those decisions for it.”
The zoos committee will now turn its attention to adapting the rules for other species. “In the long run, other mammals should be given the same rights,” Vervaecke said.