South Lakes Safari Zoo: Council refuses owner licence

David GillImage source, PA
Image caption,
David Gill has "stepped away from all trading and management activities", the zoo says

The owner of a zoo criticised over animal welfare concerns and where a keeper was killed by a tiger has lost his bid to renew his licence.

David Gill's claim for a licence to run South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness was unanimously refused by Barrow councillors.

He now has 28 days to appeal. In February, a report found 486 animals had died there in four years.

Inspectors had previously recommended new management should be found.

In 2013, keeper Sarah McClay, from Glasgow, was mauled to death by a tiger and the zoo was later fined £297,500 for health and safety breaches.

Will the zoo close?

According to the council's report, the zoo should close to the public "upon refusal of the licence".

However, the closure is delayed if an appeal is made, which Mr Gill has 28 days to lodge.

He launched his bid for a fresh licence after councillors previously rejected his claim to renew the licence he was originally granted in 1994.

Mr Gill has handed management of South Lakes over to the Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd and said he plans to sell the zoo to that group as well.

The zoo company's application for a licence to run the zoo is yet to be heard.

Image source, Stephen McClay
Image caption,
Sarah McClay was mauled to death by a tiger in 2013

After the hearing, Ms McClay's boyfriend David Shaw said he was "satisfied" with the council's decision and said he hoped Mr Gill would step aside so Cumbria Zoo Company would "prove they can operate in a safe way".

Mr Gill did not attend the hearing at Barrow Town Hall and councillors rejected an appeal from his solicitor Steve Walker to postpone the meeting.

Mr Walker said his client no longer wanted to run the zoo, which houses 1,500 animals including tigers, giraffes and rare birds, but did not want to see it close before the new company had a licence approved.

Cumbria Police raised concerns that only three zoo staff members held firearms certificates in the event of an animal escaping.

Image caption,
Recent inspections have revealed poor veterinary care, uncontrolled breeding and overcrowding

Following a site visit in January, government-appointment inspectors said they were "dismayed by the obvious deficiencies in the accommodation, the overcrowding and the lack of proper welfare and husbandry".

Deaths included two rare snow leopards found partially eaten and seven "healthy lion cubs euthanised because the zoo did not have space to house them".

The inspectors also found cold animals in the unheated Africa House, which was so badly designed, its sloped yard was finished with smooth instead of rough concrete, causing a giraffe to slip to its death.

'Bound to get bitten'

Inspectors also raised concerns about animals fighting each other, uncontrolled breeding of lemurs and a heightened risk of public safety.

Mr Gill said animals in the wild "get injured when fighting" and "people are bound to get bitten occasionally", the report said.

The report to the council's licensing committee also criticised the zoo's duty of care to its staff.

Image caption,
Inspections at the zoo have found problems with poor veterinary care, uncontrolled breeding and overcrowding

One example given was that of workers wanting to access the Andean bear building had to crawl through the doors used by the animals.

The zoo was also previously fined £42,500 after a keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

Mr Gill has also been convicted over the escape of a number of sacred ibis.

The Captive Animals' Protection Society (Caps), which also inspected South Lakes, said the zoo was one of the worst it had seen.

'Absolutely gobsmacked'

Katie Richards, from charity Born Free, said she had visited the zoo on Sunday and had been able to take part in feeding a jaguar using a pair of tongs through a cage.

She said: "I was absolutely gobsmacked by how close you could get to those animals with a pair of tongs.

"The problem here and the issue is both animal welfare and public safety and I felt very unsafe in that situation."

In a letter to the committee, Mr Gill's representatives said he was "absolutely committed to leaving the zoo" and transferring it to the new company.

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