Death of zookeeper and “deplorable” animal welfare conditions at South Lakes Safari Zoo has sparked global concern.
Following a shocking series of sorted events, South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-Furness, Cumbria is finally under new management as council made the unanimous decision to refuse license renewal. Over the last several years, one zookeeper and almost 500 animals have died due to poor conditions and negligence.
The decision to close came after Captive Animals’ Protection Society (Caps) inspected the zoo, calling the conduct “some of the worst we have seen in many years and feel that a cause for closure is strong… We have urged the council to take the opportunity to prevent more animal suffering at this zoo”.
Reports show 486 animals died at the zoo between January 2013 and September 2016. The post-mortem database details “a clear picture of poor management with uncontrolled breeding and lack of any programme of preventative and curative veterinary medicine, with resultant ongoing welfare issues for the animals”.
The zoo was operating at a rate of 12% animal mortality annually. Conditions of the deaths ranged from emaciation and hypothermia to electrocution and smoke inhalation. The horrifying rap sheet includes deaths within a giraffe herd due to E.coli and obesity, two snow leopards mysteriously found partially eaten in their pen and a jaguar that was euthanized after chewing off its own paw. Due to inadequate space, seven healthy lion cubs were put down when they were just five days old. Zoo inspectors said they had found “significant problems caused by overcrowding, poor hygiene, poor nutrition, lack of suitable animal husbandry and a lack of any sort of developed veterinary care”.
In 2013, zookeeper Sarah McClay, age 24, was mauled to death by a tiger in 2013 at South Lakes Zoo. McClay was performing routine maintenance in the animal pen when a male Sumatran tiger entered through a door with a defective bolt. McClay suffered wounds to her head and neck and subsequently died after being airlifted to a nearby hospital. The zoo was consequently fined £297,500 for health and safety violations.
Zoo owner David Gill is at the center of the turmoil. Gill, who established the zoo in 1994, has been plagued by criticism and legal battles over the years, including various romantic disputes with zoo staff. Recently, Gill had appointed his third wife, Frieda Rivera-Scheiber as lead veterinary coordinator. A former finalist of Miss Peru, Rivera-Schreiber was not registered to treat animals in the U.K. Records show she has signed over 150 post-mortems at the zoo since taking position.
Now known as the Cumbria Zoo, the space is currently under management of the Cumbria Zoo Company Limited. The group insists upon their commitment to reform the conditions of the zoo, stating: ”We are passionate about our animals and about ensuring a culture of care and love, meeting their needs to showcase our animals and allowing them to engage with visitors, whilst being valued and respected”.