Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Will South Lakes Safari Zoo finally close?

Controversy surrounding South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria has been going on for years. Of course, many of us will remember the tragic death of Sarah McClay who died when attacked by a Sumatran tiger who had managed to escape through an unlocked gate. Aside from these obvious health and safety concerns which the owner was eventually prosecuted for, concerns about the animals were raised with us by members of the public. This led to us closely monitoring the zoo, as we do with many zoos around the country.

When the Zoo License for the zoo was up for renewal in July 2016, the council chose not to renew it, a strong action from the council which indicated major problems at the zoo.  On a visit we carried out at the zoo later that month, our investigators filmed and photographed animals with health or welfare concerns on display to the public like those shown below. On one of the hottest days of the year, the penguins were a sad sight to see with no water in their pool for them to swim in. There were no signs explaining why and no keepers to be seen.

Behind the scenes

Whilst our findings on that day were concerning, the Zoo Inspectors who visited the zoo have been able to see behind the scenes, examine animals more closely and look through vet records. What they discovered was far worse.

Inspection reports released to Freedom for Animals from the local council documented how numbers of animal deaths at the zoo were reportedly high, with many preventable deaths occurring. Animals had died from exposure, emaciation, hypothermia and had even been run over. The reports also indicated that the management of the zoo was poor, with basic animal welfare needs not being met.

At an inspection in November 2016, heating had still not been installed despite inspectors having been told that it would be by August, prior to the Winter months. Inspectors reported to the council “None of the zoo management present knew what the plans for heating the animal house were, nor are there written plans”. They went on to explain that giraffe could die without any heating while a juvenile rhino was susceptible to hypothermia.

Previously it was reported that a giraffe had slipped and died on the concrete floor of the enclosure. During this inspection there was no more than a scattering of sand on the floor. Meanwhile a pregnant rhino and her juvenile had no bedding at all. This, combined with no heating, makes for a grim existence for a wild animal.

Documents released by the council this week show how nearly 500 animals died between 2013 and 2016. The zoo had a death rate of about 12% of its animals a year. Some of these animals were endangered species.

Major and local newspapers across the UK reported on the story today, including the Guardian, The Times and the BBC.

To name just a few, a jaguar was euthanased after chewing off its own paw, a tortoise was electrocuted, a rhino died after being crushed against a barrier by another rhino whilst two snow leopards’ cause of death was unknown after they were found partially eaten in their enclosure.More recently in December 2016, seven parma wallabies, a Spix’s guan and a Lady Amherst’s pheasant died.

A keeper at the zoo informed inspectors that she was told by the management ‘if there were any further deaths, she was to just dispose of the bodies and not to tell anyone.’

The future of the zoo

Zoo inspections have continued as the council plans to meet on the 6th March to discuss the future of the zoo.

Inspectors have quite clearly stated that the blame falls to David Gill, the licence holder, for the suffering and some of the deaths of the animals. They concluded in a report to the council ‘The conditions that theses animals are being held in, is quite frankly appalling, and has led directly to the death of a number of them.’ They advised the council to prosecute David Gill under Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act for allowing the animals to suffer.

We applaud the inspectors for this strong recommendation and call on the zoo to make the decision to close the zoo altogether. We feel that the many instances of suffering and unnecessary deaths of animals go to show that this zoo has failed and will continue to fail the animals in their care.

Freedom for Animals will be present at the council meeting on Monday to urge them to close the zoo and set an example to other zoos that these substandard conditions will not be tolerated.

Help us continue speaking up for animals in zoos