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Council renews licence for zoo where almost 500 animals died in four years

The Independent logo The Independent 10/05/2017 Kim Pilling
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A Cumbrian zoo where almost 500 animals died within four years can stay open after councillors granted it a licence.

Two months ago a similar application from David Gill, the owner and founder of South Lakes Safari Zoo, was unanimously rejected after Government inspectors pointed out concerns over its management structure and veterinary care which it labelled "inadequate".

But Tuesday's application from Cumbria Zoo Company Limited (CZCL), which has operated the zoo since January, was approved after licensing committee members in Barrow-in-Furness were told the same inspection team was "highly encouraged" by improvements made under a new management team

The Captive Animals' Protection Society (Caps) spoke out against the application for South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria.

Cumbria Zoo Company Limited (CZCL), which has operated the attraction since January, is bidding for the new licence after Mr Gill's bid was rejected.

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However, the same inspection team is now supporting CZCL's licence bid as they were "highly encouraged" by improvements made since the management takeover.

Members of Barrow Borough Council's licensing regulatory committee heard that Mr Gill had stepped away from all trading and management activities connected with the zoo, but the inspectors conceded there "might be some concern" that the present management team and senior staff are similar to the same team that worked under Mr Gill.

Speaking at Barrow Town Hall in opposition, Maddy Taylor from Caps said the organisation was "disappointed" that councillors were being recommended to grant a four-year licence to CZCL.

The society says recent changes at the zoo "are too little too late" and should have been place throughout the history and since CZCL chief executive Karen Brewer had been in a management position.

She told committee members that responsibility for past problems could not be "solely placed at the feet" of Mr Gill.

She said: "Some improvements may have been made in recent months, but it is not a new zoo. There is a history of suffering and neglect.

"It is clear that the right thing to do by the animals, whose lives are at stake here, is to refuse the applicant."

Three ex-members of staff at the zoo had come forward to the society to express their concerns, she said, and a total of more than 270,000 people had signed two petitions which called for the zoo to close.

Ms Brewer, who initially joined the zoo as an education officer, told the hearing that it was "a new zoo" and told councillors that it was the first time she had sat before them that she could "truly say these are my own thoughts rather than that of my previous employer".

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She said the independent inspection team had recognised "significant" improvements in animal welfare, husbandry and veterinary care", and that the hard work of "dedicated, enthusiastic and passionate" staff members had paid off.

She added: "I am passionate about our animals, our team and our guests."

The committee heard that CZCL was co-operating with an ongoing RSPCA investigation into historical animal welfare at the zoo and potential offences under the Animal Welfare Act.

The council's officer has recommended that committee members are minded to grant a licence to CZCL - subject to Mr Gill either withdrawing his own licence appeal or Mr Gill surrendering his licence.

The zoo has remained open during the appeal process.

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