Regulator criticises Packham’s fundraising for Isle of Wight Zoo

The Fundraising Regulator has criticised Chris Packham over fundraising claims he made for a zoo on the Isle of Wight.

The regulator investigated two complaints that the Wildheart Trust, a registered charity, made false claims in its 2020 fundraising appeal for money to look after five tigers and two lions at its Isle of Wight Zoo.

Packham’s partner runs the zoo and the BBC TV presenter fronts fundraising campaigns for it.  

The complaints centre on the charity’s claim that it ‘rescued’ animals from circuses, needed money to rescue more, and that the conditions inflicted on the animals under the ownership of the circuses were demonstrably unsuitable. This included the claim that the animals had been mutilated, cruelly confined and forced to fight for scraps of food.

Isle of Wight Zoo, rebranded as 'Wildheart Animal Sanctuary'

The Fundraising Regulator did not uphold the complaints – but it also criticised Wildheart on three counts: 

  • It expressed ‘reservations about the charity’s claim to rescue animals from Spanish circuses’. 
  • It found Packham’s request for money to rescue more circus animals in the future ‘unevidenced as well as contrary to the charity’s own crediting of a partner agency for rescues’.
  • It found that the charity’s assertions were ‘arguably expressed rather sweepingly with a touch of hyperbole’.
Fundraising poster at Isle of Wight Zoo

On 8 December 2021, the Fundraising Regulator called on Wildheart to ‘reflect on how it communicates its role in rescue operations’. 

More than three weeks after the Fundaising Regulator made its judgement, Isle of Wight Zoo / Wildheart has not removed a video by Packham from its fundraising Crowdfunder page.  

In the video, Packham appeals for funds for the Wildheart Trust, including claims that he and the  charity ‘rescued’ animals, principally big cats from European circuses. The appeal refers to the ‘unimaginable cruelty and neglect the tigers had suffered while at the circus’.

An investigation of these claims by the Country Squire website finds that, although German authorities had peviously confiscated a tiger at the centre of the allegations, vets had testified in court that it lived in a ‘pleasing’ large space within a friendly homogenous group of big cats.  Nor were five tigers ‘rescued’ from a circus in Spain. The circus family voluntarily handed them over to an animal centre.  

This is not the first time that Packham has landed in trouble over fundraising. In the run-up to Chistmas 2020, he had to take down online fundraising materials for his Wild Justice action group. See our story here

Despite censure by the Fundraising Regulator, Packham and Wildheart are sticking to their original claims. In a statement on the Raptor Persecution website, Wildheart says: “The fact that these people could claim that our beloved tigers were not rescued when there was irrefutable evidence of the harm and injury that they had suffered, gives us some insight into these people’s contempt for our most precious wildlife.”

Wildheart also says: “These were baseless and malicious claims driven by a group of individuals with a clear agenda to attack Chris Packham and individuals and organisations associated with him.” 

Packham’s lawyer Leigh Day is currently locked in legal battle with the Country Squire website over articles it alleges are defamatory.

Misleading? fundraising signage at Isle of Wight Zoo:
Feeling the criticism: Packham responds to one Twitter attack here:

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