Name and type of organisation/s: The Wildheart Trust (registered charity no. 1171144)
Fundraising method: Digital (other)
Code themes examined: Misleading information and complaints handling
Code breach? No
The complainant said that a fundraising appeal by the Wildheart Trust (the charity) wrongly suggested that some of the animals in its zoo had suffered cruel treatment in the circuses that had previously owned the animals. The complainant also said the charity was wrong to suggest that it had rescued the animals from circuses. They said that the inaccurate information damaged the reputation of some circus families.
In April 2020 the charity published a video appealing for funds to help it deal with the fall in visitor numbers to the Isle of Wight Zoo caused mainly by the Covid-19 pandemic. Its video described the care the charity gave to big cats that had been rescued from circuses. It said the animals were emotionally and physically broken and had endured horrific conditions throughout their lives. It said the funds raised would help it rescue more animals in future, as well as help the charity continue its conservation work.
The complainant said the animals mentioned in the video included animals treated as family pets by their circus owners. The complainant said there had been no rescue and that a circus had donated those animals in 2017. The complainant said that experts disputed claims that circuses’ treatment of animals caused suffering to them.
We considered whether the charity’s fundraising video had unfairly criticised or insulted other people or organisations, and whether it or its materials had misled anyone or been likely to mislead anyone. We also considered the charity’s evidence to prove the claims it made about the animals in its fundraising video and if it had taken the steps needed so that a donor could make an informed decision about donating. Finally, we looked at the charity’s complaints handling.
The charity’s response to our investigation provided evidence that identified the animals described in the fundraising video and gave some of their medical history. It addressed the complainant’s concerns about differing expert views on whether or not circuses’ treatment of animals caused suffering to them. It explained its reasons for the claims it had made about the animals. We found that the charity’s assertions, based on its view of the facts and research, were not misleading or likely to mislead. We found that the video set out a strong position on opposing the use of animals in circuses, but the charity did not criticise or insult any specific people or organisations. We decided that the charity had handled the complaint fairly and proportionately. We therefore found no breach of the code by the charity.
We made no recommendations for action by the charity.
The complainant requested an external review of our decision. Upon review of the case, the External Reviewer did not consider that the complaint about our decision met the threshold for a full external review. You can read the executive summary of the External Reviewer’s decision here.