11th January 2023

In November 2022, South Lakes Zoo (SLZ) - also known as Cumbria Zoo - held a Bonfire Night Bonanza event which included fireworks. Although advertised as “bangless”, members of the public who attended the event took to social media and online review sites like ‘Tripadvisor’ to claim otherwise, saying that the fireworks were definitely NOT bangless.

These allegations concerned FFA greatly. Fireworks are wholly inappropriate for use in a zoo under any format, but to hear reports they were not silent, we decided we had to see for ourselves what the animals are being forced to endure. SLZ advertised a number of “Mrs Claus” festive events on their website in the run up to Christmas, and all included ”bangless” fireworks. In December 2022, an FFA representative entered SLZ to film and document the reality the animals held captive at the zoo must suffer in the name of entertainment. And sadly, the claims were true. The fireworks being advertised as “bangless” were far from it. 

The five-minute long display was also accompanied by blaring Christmas music, and shockingly placed between the reindeer enclosure and the 'Africa House'. From the investigator's position, a 82 decibel (db) reading was registered on their electronic sound metre; comparable to being next to a lawnmower, and enough to cause hearing loss to humans when in direct exposure. Animals have much more sensitive hearing to humans, so if 82db can cause issues to human hearing, it will most certainly affect animals' hearing more dramatically and cause far more distress. Reindeer are a naturally sensitive species, who do not react well to loud noise or external stresses present in their environment. The many animals housed in the 'Africa House' enclosure will also have had to endure the noise and stress as a result of the close proximity display; yet every single animal held captive at SLZ will have been affected greatly due to the overall size of the site, showing a complete lack of consideration by zoo officials. To enact such sustained pressure on the animals by holding equally damaging fireworks displays every weekend in the run up to Christmas - as well as every night through the week before Christmas Eve - is unfathomable.

Shockingly, the FFA investigator also uncovered that very few, if any, of the issues raised in a recent investigation carried out by our friends at Born Free Foundation (BFF) - details of which can be found HERE - have been rectified. 

The following was observed during our December visit: 

  • Giraffes displaying signs of serious stereotypic behaviour (zoochosis) due to no obvious attempts by the zoo to introduce better enrichment. Numerous individuals were observed continuously walking to the empty hand-feeding area and twisting their necks and heads back and forth repetitively. Neck twisting in captive giraffes is considered to be an all too common example of zoochosis.
  • A female giraffe continuing to suffer from an overgrown hoof, seemingly not treated from the time it was first exposed by BFF in October.
  • Very poor access to outside space within the ’Africa House’ enclosures, with certain rhino individuals held in pens so small they could barely turn around. 
  • Animals in the ‘Africa House’ seemingly staying inside on the concrete floor due to the muddy and waterlogged outside space, showing a lack of appropriate drainage (previously mentioned as an issue of “great concern” during past council inspections).
  • Lack of nutrient rich, or suitable, food available. For example, a keeper informed the investigator that the giraffes’ main source of food in captivity is hay and vegetables, and that occasionally carrots are offered as a treat. Yet the only thing that was witnessed to be offered to them during the investigation was carrots.
  • Regular visitor hand-feeding opportunities also predominantly involve carrots being fed to the giraffes, at a level that is incredibly unhealthy and unnatural for the species, and could cause numerous health issues due to malnutrition and insufficient nutrient intake. The BFF report witnessed 52 visitors feeding the animals carrots during one appointment.
  • Insufficient heating was again highlighted, especially in the primate enclosures, with many only containing one heat lamp per room; leaving numerous species forced to huddle together directly underneath (read about how vital heating is to captive animals' safety HERE)
  • Poor heating was also evident in the 'Africa House', where many of the animals are not adapted to cope in such conditions. It was 3ºC on the day FFA visited, and with the heavy rain and wind felt colder still. The enclosures were clearly not warm enough.

A lack of consideration for distressing noise levels was not only an issue during the fireworks display, but also throughout the zoo due to other actions: 

  • The Andean bears’ indoor enclosure is directly adjacent to the café and toilets, where frequent noise from the coffee machine, hand dryer, excited children, and human conversation often culminates to create a hectic and stressful environment (many concerning stereotypies were observed in the same bears during BFF’s October report; the presence of which will not be helped by having to live in such unsettled surroundings).
  • The arctic wolf enclosure ran directly alongside the busy A590 which was very noisy with constant traffic passing by. 
  • The maned wolf lives alone in an enclosure with little to no enrichment and a tiny shed as shelter. They were witnessed to be showing signs of heightened stress due to a member of staff using a leaf blower right next to their space, causing them to tense up significantly and attempt to run past to safety on numerous occasions.

Barrow Borough Council must act now!

Serious failings and cases of neglect within zoos should not be allowed to happen, and Barrow-in-Furness Council have so far not acted to ensure the safety of the animals held captive at SLZ. Time and time again, undercover investigations highlight the shocking mistreatment of these vulnerable animals, who the zoo continuously fails to protect. What will it take, and how many failures will be allowed to take place, before councils fully close down these horrendously neglectful zoos? SLZ is a clear example of how animals are being let down by councils' reluctance to take responsibility and properly enforcing the conditions set out in the Zoo Licencing Act 1981, and the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice. The results of the previous inspection they carried out in November have not yet been released. They are due to be discussed in February 2023.

You can read more about the past investigations into South Lakes Zoo here: https://www.freedomforanimals.org.uk/News/animals-continue-to-suffer-in-south-lakes-horror-zoo