In a hearing held yesterday, Barrow Borough Council made the disappointing but unsurprising decision to grant a licence for South Lakes Safari zoo to remain open. The licence, which will last 4 years, has been granted to Karen Brewer of Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd, a new company that was set up by staff at the zoo. The licence will come into force once the previous licence holder, David Gill, withdraws his licence and ends his appeal.

As an animal charity that has spent decades monitoring and investigating zoos, the history of animal suffering and death at this zoo is one of the worst cases we have ever seen. Hundreds of animals have died of preventable deaths and have undergone horrific suffering at the zoo for years and it should have been shut down a long time ago. Key management who have been heavily involved at the zoo in the past have now been given the stamp of approval to run the zoo despite the long history of suffering.

Several people have come forward to the council with inside information and serious concerns. One particular ex-employee who recently came forward even suggested that the issues around animal welfare have continued in recent months, with basics like appropriate food apparently not being provided for the animals. If this is true, it is very concerning for the future of the animals there.

Whilst zoo inspectors have found some improvements in recent months and whilst this has been the focus for the council, the history of suffering and neglect cannot be denied. That is what should matter. The animals deserve recognition and those who are responsible should be held accountable. For the animals' sake we will do what we can to look out for them by closely monitoring the zoo and we urge the council to do the same.

The Bigger Picture

Whilst the outcome yesterday is not the one we had hoped for, this case has shone an important spotlight on many of the fundamental flaws of the zoo industry as a whole and how it is regulated.

The Zoo Licensing Act claims to exist to protect animals in zoos, yet in this case it has failed to do so. The widespread mismanagement and animal neglect at the zoo had been going on for years and despite being picked up by zoo inspectors, did not lead to the closure of the zoo. 

Furthermore (as far as we are aware) no attempts have been made to prosecute the licence holder under the Animal Welfare Act, despite the catalogue of suffering. It has now fallen to the RSPCA to do so.

More transparency is very much needed regarding animal deaths in zoos. It is very rare that we see detailed information of the causes of deaths as we have with South Lakes. It is not a legal requirement for zoos to provide this information along with their yearly stocklist (listing animals coming in and out of the zoo, births and deaths) so it is information that cannot normally be obtained by the public from local authorities. 

We call on DEFRA to make it a legal requirement for zoos to provide this information so it can be shared with the public. 

It is important to remember that South Lakes Safari Zoo is not a stand alone case – Freedom for Animals is contacted regularly about welfare concerns in zoos and over our years of campaign we have unearthed suffering, neglect, deaths and cruelty across UK zoos. Freedom for Animals investigators have discovered dead animals rotting in zoo enclosures, zoos illegally mutilating birds, zoos killing healthy animals, animals performing unnatural behaviours pacing and rocking, animals from zoos ending up in circuses… the list of disturbing issues is a long one.

This is why we continue to campaign against all zoos, aquariums and other businesses which hold animals captive. Closing down South Lakes zoo would have been a victory for animals but it still would have only been small chip out of a industry rife with poor regulation, animal suffering and exploitation. This is why the campaigning must continue focusing on the industry as a whole and the ethics of captivity as well as on individual zoos like this.

So let us pick ourselves up and continue to fight, as the animals still need us.