British zoo faces closure for animal cruelty

Nearly 500 animals dead in four years from malnutrition, poor care and conditions

LONDON • A British zoo is facing closure and its owner prosecution after nearly 500 of its animals died of poor nutrition, cramped conditions and hypothermia over four years.

A damning report into the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria, north-west England, found that 486 animals had died in the past four years, putting most of the blame on its owner, Mr David Gill.

The zoo had over 1,600 animals last year.

Describing the conditions as "appalling", inspectors reported finding poor levels of veterinary care, cleanliness and pest control, as well as inadequate food. "The conditions that these animals are being held in are, quite frankly, appalling and have led directly to the death of a number of them," they wrote in the report that was released yesterday. They recommended that Mr Gill be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act.

Last year, 123 animals died, including a West African giraffe which was euthanised a day after collapsing. Post-mortem images raised concerns over nutrition.

A red kangaroo died following a head trauma and six lion cubs were euthanised because the facility was not big enough to house them. The report notes they were "healthy cubs and nothing (was) wrong with them".

An African spurred tortoise was electrocuted on an electric fence, while a leopard tortoise died from the cold.

Keepers told the inspecting team they had been ordered to dispose of the animals' bodies and not tell anyone about them.

Inspectors also flagged the owner's poor duty-of-care towards staff.

The zoo was fined £255,000 (S$440,000) in June last year for health and safety reasons following the 2013 death of one of its zookeepers, Ms Sarah McClay. She was mauled by a Sumatran tiger.

Mr Gill is currently applying for a fresh licence for the zoo after the local council Barrow and Furness rejected his application for an extension of his previous licence back in July last year.

Applying for a new licence allows the zoo to remain open until the application is processed.

Inspectors are recommending that the council reject his application and close the zoo, stating that the standards maintained by Mr Gill "fall far below the standards required in a modern zoo".

The animal welfare charity Captive Animals' Protection Society applauded the recommendation.

"We feel that the many instances of suffering and unnecessary deaths of animals go to show that this zoo has failed and will continue to fail the animals in its care," it said in a statement.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2017, with the headline 'British zoo faces closure for animal cruelty'. Print Edition | Subscribe