Councillors have been recommended to refuse a new licence for a zoo where almost 500 animals have died in four years.
The deaths at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, from 2013 to 2016 were revealed in a report to members of Barrow Borough Council’s licensing regulatory committee, which will decide the zoo’s fate next week (6 March).
In June 2016, the zoo – founded in 1994 by David Gill – was fined £255,000 at Preston Crown Court after one of its employees, Sarah McClay, 24, was killed by a Sumatran tiger in May 2013.
It received an additional £42,500 fine after it had also pleaded guilty to other health and safety law breaches when a zoo keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.
In response to the application by Mr Gill for a fresh licence – and to effectively keep the zoo open – Government-appointed inspectors said they were “dismayed by the obvious deficiencies in the accommodation, the overcrowding, and the lack of proper welfare and husbandry”.
Lack of veterinary care
They said the postmortem database – detailing the deaths of 486 animals – “shows a clear picture of poor management with uncontrolled breeding and lack of any programme of preventive and curative veterinary medicine, with resultant ongoing welfare issues for the animals”.
It noted the “poor design facilities” of animal houses that “could and probably would act as both a potential danger to the staff and the animals”.
In reference to a number of previous animal escapes, the inspectors said they believed if a new licence was granted there was “a reasonable likelihood animals may continue to escape, and that, if escaped, they might injuriously affect the health or safety of persons living in the neighbourhood”.
Worst we have seen
In a letter to the council, the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, which conducted its own inspection visits, wrote: “The conduct of this zoo has been some of the worst we have seen in many years and we feel 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.”
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, although he remained the licence holder, he had stepped away from all trading and management activities connected with the zoo. They added Mr Gill was “absolutely committed to exiting the zoo” and transferring full responsibility to Cumbria Zoo Company.
On South Lakes Safari 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 2017.
She said the company’s commitment was 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”.