Councillors have refused a licence application for a zoo after a postmortem report revealed almost 500 animals had died there within four years.

Giraffes at South Lakes Wild Animal Park near Barrow-in-Furness. Photo by The Shaun Woods, (CC BY 2.0).

Zoo founder David Gill applied to renew his licence for the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, as reported on 1 March.

Application refused

Today (6 March), the application was refused by Barrow Borough Council’s licensing regulatory committee, with Mr Gill being given 28 days to lodge an appeal.

Chairman of the committee Tony Callister said the decision had been unanimous and was made because councillors were not satisfied conservation matters referred to in the Zoo Licensing Act (1981) would be implemented.

Mr Callister said the committee had taken into account Mr Gill had been convicted under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, regarding the escape into the wild of a number of sacred ibis.

Obvious deficiencies

The committee heard inspectors had visited the tourist attraction in January this year and were “dismayed by the obvious deficiencies in the accommodation, the overcrowding and the lack of proper welfare and husbandry”.

Inspectors said the postmortem database, detailing the deaths of 486 animals from January 2013 to September 2016, showed “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”.

Mr Gill did not attend the hearing at Barrow Town Hall and his solicitor, Steve Walker called for the meeting to be adjourned as his client was out of the country.

Councillors refused the application for adjournment, however, and said Mr Gill had been given “every opportunity” to attend the meeting.

Mr Walker said the numbers of animals who died should be taken in context and that the mortality rate at Chester Zoo was worse.

Lack of action

Veterinary advisor Matthew Brash said: “The inspectors throughout were very strongly of the opinion it’s a mistake to concentrate on numbers per se.

“Our concern has been the cause of death or lack of action to prevent, or lack of action occurred after those deaths, to prevent them reoccurring.”

The committee heard the animals that had died included a jaguar called Saka who had a bite wound to its paw and injuries that indicated “chronic, ongoing self-traumatisation”.

Tiger attack

In June 2016, the zoo, opened in 1994 by Mr 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 also pleaded guilty to other health and safety law breaches when a zookeeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

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