Inspectors visit South Lakes Safari Zoo ahead of fresh licence application

Government inspectors have carried out another visit to assess animal welfare standards at a Cumbrian zoo.

A team of experts appointed by the Home Office spent two days at South Lakes Safari Zoo last week as part of a fresh application for a licence for the attraction from Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd.

The latest inspection represents the first chance for the new company, formed in January, to demonstrate improvements to the site since they took over full responsibility for its day to day management.

The conclusions of the inspection team will be revealed in a report set to be shared with Barrow Council – the body responsible for issuing a zoo licence – in the coming weeks.

Karen Brewer, Cumbria Zoo chief executive, said her team was focused on continuing with the implementation of improvements while they awaited the findings of the inspectors.

Mrs Brewer said: “We had our inspection on Monday and Tuesday last week.


“The process now is that the inspectors will send their report to the council and we will have a certain period of time to respond to it after that.

“In the meantime, the team are continuing to work hard. We are all obviously delighted with the birth of a baby giraffe this week which is fantastic news,” she added.

An inspection of the zoo in January revealed animal welfare standards within an area managed directly by Mr Gill were poor and had resulted in the deaths of a series of exhibits.

A post mortem report also revealed nearly 500 animals died in just four years because of inappropriate animal husbandry and harrowing conditions.

The causes included emaciation, exposure and infighting within overstocked pens.

South Lakes Safari Zoo is operating without a licence after Barrow Borough Council bosses refused to renew the existing permit held in the name of the attraction’s owner, David Gill.

A formal closure notice was also issued by members of BBC’s licencing regulatory committee after they ruled the zoo had failed to comply with a series of direction orders put in place last year.

However, the zoo can remain open for 28 days pending an appeal of the licence refusal by Mr Gill.

The 486 deaths at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, between January 2013 and September 2016, were detailed in a report prepared by officers at Barrow Borough Council.

:: Three animals died after being run over by a miniature railway train

:: Sixteen animals were attacked and killed by members of their own species

:: A tortoise died after being electrocuted by electric fencing

:: Seven healthy lion cubs and five young baboons were “euthanised” because there was not enough space

:: Mr Gill shot 18 Sacred Ibis birds after he was threatened with prosecution for letting them fly free

:: A giraffe was shot by its keeper after collapsing

:: Two snow leopards were found partially eaten

:: A pair of squirrel monkeys were diagnosed with septicaemia

A zookeeper told the inspection team they had been told “to just dispose of any dead bodies and not tell anyone about them”.

In June 2016, the zoo was also fined £255,000 after one of its employees, Sarah McClay, 24, was killed by a Sumatran tiger in May 2013.

It was also hit with a £42,500 fine when a zookeeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

Investigators found animals with varying degrees of ill-health, including a meerkat with visible skin problems, a lemur with a sore and a kangaroo “incredibly emaciated and unwell”.

They also found the penguin pool without any water.

Councillors heard that inspectors had visited in January and were “dismayed by the obvious deficiencies in the accommodation, the overcrowding and the lack of proper welfare and husbandry”.

Details of the deaths of 486 animals showed “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”.

Inspectors 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.”

Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd, of which Mr Gill is not a director, hopes to secure its own zoo licence from Barrow Borough Council in May.

A petition calling for the permanent closure of South Lakes Safari Zoo now has more than 200,000 signatures.

A counter petition calling for the zoo to be allowed to remain open has attracted 407 supporters.