South Lakes Safari Zoo could get new licence despite almost 500 animal deaths

Bethany Minelle, News Reporter

A shamed zoo in Cumbria where almost 500 animals died and a keeper was killed by a tiger is on course to get a new licence.

South Lakes Safari Zoo had its initial application rejected earlier this year when it came to light that 486 animals had died at the Dalton-in-Furness attraction between January 2013 and September 2016.

A post-mortem database listing the causes of death included three animals run over by a miniature railway, healthy lion cubs and young baboons "euthanised" due to lack of space, and a giraffe shot by its keeper after collapsing.

The zoo - which remained open - has been run by Cumbria Zoo Company Limited (CZCL) since the beginning of the year, and founder David Gill now has no involvement in the running of the business.

After an appeal against the licence decision, Government inspectors have now re-visited the site and said they were "impressed" with the "palpable change of culture and attitude of all staff" during their visit.

They are recommending the licence be granted, subject to conditions being met.

But while drawing attention to the "astonishing" loyalty of the keepers, they did note their "concern" at the lack of a permanent animal director.

CZCL said a new animal manager had been chosen and would be put in place if it received a new licence.

Councillors will visit the zoo in person next week, before making a decision.

A number of animal welfare groups have called for the application to be rejected, drawing attention to CZCL chief executive Karen Brewer, who they say was in a management position at the time the previous welfare and safety issues occurred.

In June 2016, the zoo was fined £255,000 after one of its employees, Sarah McClay, 24, was killed by a Sumatran tiger in May 2013.

It was also hit with a £42,500 fine when a zookeeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.