17th February 2023

Freedom for Animals (FFA) recently brought you the news that South Lakes Zoo (SLZ) had an upcoming council inspection scheduled in November 2022 after worrying allegations, raised by members of the public and a Born Free investigation carried out in October, were released.

Since then, FFA conducted its own investigation in December 2022 to investigate the shocking allegations of loud, non-bangless fireworks displays being held every night in the run up to Christmas). We found serious animal welfare issues such as overcrowding, inadequate lighting for numerous species including the primates, meerkats and tortoises, unsuitable sizes and locations of many enclosures causing distress to affected animals, many individuals displaying zoochosis symptoms, poor housing temperatures and adequate enclosure maintenance.

The November council inspection results were discussed during a committee licensing meeting on the 16th February, and highlights from the discussion can be viewed on the Born Free Foundation’s (BFF) website here.

FFA are really disappointed to discover the litany of issues raised in these past investigations are still very much present; such as flooding and overcrowding in the Africa House enclosures and the captive rhinos being inadequately provided for in terms of space, enrichment and overall care. This highlights a serious lack of care or desire to react to the conditions attached to their licence by Barrow Council, after their previous council inspection led to an order for the zoo to tackle the flooding issue by December 2022 at the latest.

Such significant failings and animal welfare issues require immediate action, yet Barrow Council has given the zoo a one-year reprieve to provide the rhinos with suitable access to grazing and exercise space. That is one whole year that the animals in question will be suffering and have to endure a disgraceful and inadequate environment. This is completely unacceptable. 

Animals may already be dying due to consistent failures to implement appropriate measures to ensure their welfare and many may not survive another year of poor welfare standards. BFF’s statement sadly highlighted that a zebra, housed at the Africa House, has died since their visit in October. 

Time and time again Barrow Council have given the zoo ample opportunities to improve the lives of the animals kept there, and time and again the zoo has not acted appropriately. According to BFF’s statement, many of the serious welfare issues witnessed during both FFA’s and BFF’s investigations were not mentioned, suggesting they may not have even been considered as part of the inspection. The Zoo Investment Company (ZIC) - which is the landlord to the zoo - has also been carrying out recent inspections with a vet present and found these same issues to be present, and, shockingly, ongoing since June 2021. 

The result of the council inspection, alongside the shocking evidence collected on both BFF’s and FFA’s visits provide evidence that animals are continuing to suffer due to not only the actions of the zoo itself, but also the inaction of the council to better protect the vulnerable animals imprisoned there.

What will it take, and how many failures will be allowed to take place, before Barrow Council  close down this failed zoo? South Lakes Zoo is a clear example of how animals are being let down by councils' reluctance to take responsibility and properly enforcing the requirements set out in the Zoo Licencing Act 1981, and the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice

Like BFF, Freedom for Animals is calling for the rhinos to be transported to appropriate sanctuaries without further delay. We are also calling on Barrow Council to refuse any further licences for the zoo and to take urgent and affirmative action to close this zoo once and for all.