Alarm after 486 animals die in four years at British zoo

A report said healthy lion cubs were euthanized due to lack of space

Alarm after 486 animals die in four years at British zoo

Image: Facebook/SafariZooUK

Councillors in England have been told they should 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 prepared by officers at Barrow Borough Council.

The council's licensing regulatory committee will decide the zoo's fate at a meeting next week.

The zoo was fined stg£255,000 (€298,498) after one of its employees, Sarah McClay (24) was killed by a Sumatran tiger in May 2013.

It was hit with a stg£42,500 (€49,749) fine after it also pleaded guilty to health and safety law breaches when a zookeeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

In response to the application for a fresh licence by David Gill, who founded the zoo in 1994, government-appointed inspectors said they were "dismayed by the obvious deficiencies in the accommodation, the overcrowding and the lack of proper welfare and husbandry".

They said the post-mortem database - detailing the deaths of 486 animals - "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".

The report said seven healthy lion cubs and five young baboons were "euthanised" because there was not enough space to keep them in.

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 and a pair of squirrel monkeys were diagnosed with septicaemia.

'Strong case' for closure

Investigators found animals with varying degrees of ill-health, including a meerkat with visible skin problems, a lemur with a sore and a kangaroo which was described as "incredibly emaciated and unwell".

They also found the penguin pool without any water.

Inspectors noted the "poor design facilities" of animal houses which "could and probably would act as both a potential danger to the staff and the animals".

And in reference to the number of animal escapes in the past, the inspectors said they believed that if a new licence was granted there was "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".

In a letter to the council, the UK’s Captive Animals Protection Society, which has carried out 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 that a case for closure is strong."

The council's officers conclude in their report: "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 said that although he remained the licence holder he had stepped away from all trading and management activities connected with the zoo, transferring full responsibility to Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd.

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.