Cumbria zoo could lose licence after nearly 500 animals die in four years and tiger mauls a keeper to death

Inspectors have recommended a zoo loses its licence after almost 500 of its animals died in four years – a death rate of 12 per cent.

The deaths at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, from 2013 to 2016 were revealed in a damning report to members of Barrow Borough Council’s licensing committee, which will decide the zoo’s fate.

Produced, by Government-appointed inspectors, it revealed that 486 inhabitants died over the four years from a range causes including hypothermia and emaciation.

It said they were “dismayed by the obvious deficiencies in the accommodation, the overcrowding and the lack of proper welfare and husbandry” at the zoo currently houses around 1500 animals.

They provided it to the council in response to the application by owner and founder Rob Gill.

The report found the zoo’s post-mortem database “shows a clear picture of poor management with uncontrolled breeding and lack of any programme of preventative and curative veterinary medicine, with resultant ongoing welfare issues for the animals”.

It also criticised the “poor design” of animal houses which ”could and probably would act as both a potential danger to the staff and the animals.”

In 2015, the zoo was fined £255,000 following the death of keeper, Sarah McClay, who in May 2013 was mauled by a Sumatran tiger.

It received an additional £42,500 fine after it pleaded guilty to other breaches of health and safety law when a keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

There have also been a number of animal escapes and inspectors warned that if a new licence is granted there is ”a reasonable likelihood that animals may continue to escape, and that if escaped they might injuriously affect the health or safety of persons living in the neighbourhood“.

Among the animal deaths listed in the report are those of two snow leopard cubs named Miska and Natasja, who were discovered partially eaten in their enclosure in October 2015.

A tortoise died of hypothermia in June 2015, and in October that year, a lemur was killed after entering a wolf enclosure. 

Two giraffes died in 2015, one of an infection thought to be e-coli and the second was put down when it could not stand.

A vet who carried out the post-mortem raised concerns over the poor level of nutrition the giraffe herd received.

In a letter to the council, the Captive Animals Protection Society,(CAPS), which conducted its own inspection, wrote: ”The conduct of this zoo has been some of the worst we have seen in many years and we feel that a case for closure is strong.

“We urge the council to take the opportunity to prevent more animal suffering at this zoo and also set an example to the entire industry that inadequate care and management will not be tolerated.”

CAPS ran  a campaign in 2012 claiming local authorities were often failing to act when zoos were in repeated breach of strict licensing laws.

In its recommendation to reject the application, council officers concluded: “The lack of senior supervision and management is evident throughout the zoo, including the failures of the local veterinary service, leading to deplorable standards, compromised welfare and deaths.”

Lawyers for Mr Gill told the council that although he remained the licence holder he had stepped away from all trading and management activities connected with the zoo.

They added that Mr Gill was “absolutely committed to exiting the zoo” and transferring full responsibility to Cumbria Zoo Company.

On the zoo’s Facebook page, Cumbria Zoo Company’s chief executive Karen Brewer said it had a “continuing commitment to animal welfare” since the firm began operating the site in January.

She said the company was committed “To strive to achieve high welfare standards for the animals in our care, be animal welfare leaders and advocates, and provide environments that focus on the animals’ physical and behavioural needs“.

The council rejected an application by the zoo to renew its licence last year, finding Mr Gill was “not a fit and suitable person” to run it, but a fresh application has been submitted which will be considered next week.

The Press Association contributed to this report. 

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