Tara Lepore | Contributing Writer | Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A British Zoo Is Facing Closure After Nearly 500 Animals Die In Less Than Four Years

A British Zoo Is Facing Closure After Nearly 500 Animals Die In Less Than Four Years

The Debrief: Why is this happening in the UK?

When was the last time you went to the zoo? I can't remember when I did - and a quick ask around the office provokes a similar response. One person recalls visiting Berlin Zoo last year, but left after 20 minutes 'because it was so depressing'. Back on home soil, there are around 40 wildlife parks and zoos in the UK, with many of them, such as The Donkey Sanctuary and Monkey World, doing amazing charity work to protect endangered species. 

But this week's news that a zoo in Cumbria faces closure after 486 animals died in less than four years has posed some serious questions, revealing the loopholes that tourist bosses can skirt around while keeping animals in captivity. 

Inspectors from Barrow Council released findings from a report into South Lakes Safari Zoo near the Lake District, where hundreds of animals died in captivity from December 2013 to September 2016.

The zoo hit the headlines in May 2013 after keeper Sarah McClay was mauled to death by a tiger - she was cleaning the big cat’s enclosure when it entered the room due to a faulty bolt on the door. This widely-covered incident led to Barrow Council fining the safari zoo £255k for breaching health and safety laws.

It seems crazy that a zoo with stats like this is still open and trading to the public. It continues to welcome 250,000 visitors and earns £3m per year. And since 2013, things haven’t exactly been getting better, with feedback from a government inspection earlier this year saying any progress had been ‘seriously undermined’ by ‘deplorable’ welfare standards.

Barrow Council’s report cited 'poor veterinary care, overcrowding and uncontrolled breeding' as the main reasons behind the zoo's major failures. There were even animals being unnecessarily put down due to there being no space to keep them. Sigh. 

The 12% death toll of the zoo’s 1,500 animals in the past three years included a jaguar that chewed off one of its paws, two snow leopard cubs, Miska and Natasja, were found partially eaten in their enclosure, and a rhino was crushed to death by its partner. A monkey was even found rotting behind a radiator, days after it had died. 

The zoo’s licence holder David Gill stepped away from all management activities in December last year, after inspectors recommended the licence shouldn’t be renewed until new management stepped up to the job. He’d initially planned to renew the licence himself, but its granting was dependent on a full inspection of the premises after January 2017. The results don't look promising for him, and it looks like the beginning of the end for this safari park that's been in and out of court for the past three years. 

Maddie Taylor, campaigns officer at the Captive Animal Protection Society, said: ‘The findings at South Lakes Safari Zoo are some of the worst we have ever come across in 60 years.

‘Our visit to the zoo combined with the zoo inspectors' reports shows high death rates of animals, animals in ill health and a lack of understanding about how to meet even the most basic needs of the animals under their care.

‘We urge the local authority to take action by closing this appalling zoo down.’

The real question is, why are we still reading about stuff like this in 2017 - and in the UK at that? Reports of tiger tourism in Thailand provoked outrage across the world, but for a country of animal-lovers, it seems totally absurd that this place is open for business as usual today.

It's completely twisted that the profits of a tourist attraction should be put before the welfare of animals (and the safety of its employees). From the evidence, it looks like South Lakes' hefty fine in 2013 left them with a serious lack of funding that led to a string of immoral business decisions. It's now in the hands of the council's licensing commitee to decide the fate of this shockingly-managed establishment. Let's hope they do the animals justice.

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Picture: PA