The founder of South Lakes Safari Zoo in northern England has been refused a new license as the local council are unsatisfied that conservation protocols would be implemented.
The rejection comes only a week after a scathing report suggested the park should be shut, following the deaths of 486 animals between 2013 and 2016. South Lakes Safari Zoo is home to more than 1,500 animals in total.
The animals died of causes such as emaciation and hypothermia. The inspectors who wrote the report found evidence of “overcrowding, poor hygiene, poor nutrition, lack of suitable animal husbandry and a lack of any sort of developed veterinary care.”
They recommended not only that the council refuse the zoo’s licence, but prosecute founder David Gill for allowing animals under his care to suffer.
This is not the first time Gill’s suitability to care for animals has been questioned. The park was fined more than 200,000 euros over the death of zookeeper Sarah McClay, 24, who was mauled to death by a Sumatran Tiger in 2013. A defective door bolt was blamed for the incident, as it allowed the tiger to access the area of the enclosure McClay was cleaning at the time. Gill was subsequently criticised for asserting that McClay was killed because she failed to follow the correct health and safety procedures.
And in 2015 he was served a warning for the escape of potentially invasive Ibis birds from his park. Authorities have specified that they do not want the African bird to settle in the UK, over fears that they could cause significant harm to local birds. Gill was fined 2,300 euros for the offence, but Barrow council decided on that occasion the crime was not serious enough to justify closing the zoo.
Among the litany of animal deaths included in the most recent report into the South Lakes Safari Zoo were an African spurred tortoise who was electrocuted by an electric fence, and a squirrel monkey whose decomposing body was found behind a radiator.
But the zoo remains open
Despite the rejection of a new licence for Mr Gill, South Lakes Safari Zoo will remain open. That’s because Gill has now transferred control of the park to Cumbria Zoo Company and its CEO Karen Brewer.
But inspectors remain unconvinced by this transfer of control, saying: “Between November and July 2015, nine different management teams have been proposed… But there has always been a single common denominator.. (Gill) continued to run the zoo, either directly or indirectly, with (Karen Brewer) being presented as CEO”.
Brewer defended Gill in response to the 2016 report, saying: “his ideas and his contributions in this zoo (are) vital to keep (the park’s) heart alive.”
Charity the Captive Animals’ Protection Society has criticised the change of management as insufficient, pointing out that “four out of eight of the new directors of Cumbria Zoo Ltd are past of key managers at South Lakes Safari Zoo.” They added that “The CEO of Cumbria Zoo, Karen Brewer, has been present at South Lakes Safari Zoo inspections as far back as 2011. At these inspections, inspectors have raised varying degrees of animal welfare concerns and deaths”.
In a statement, Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd said: “Cumbria Zoo is thoroughly committed to delivering high standards of animal welfare for the animals in our care and others impacted by our conservation activities”.