South Lakes Safari Zoo Refused Licence After Almost 500 Animal Deaths In 4 Years

A jaguar at the zoo chewed off its own paw.

Local councillors have rejected an application for a new licence for a zoo where almost 500 animals died within four years.

David Gill, who founded South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, in 1994, had his claim rejected unanimously by Barrow Borough Council’s licensing regulatory committee. He now has 28 days to appeal.

The deaths at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria, from 2013 to 2016 were revealed in a report submitted to the panel.

South Lakes Safari Zoo, in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria
South Lakes Safari Zoo, in Dalton-in-Furness, Cumbria

It received an additional ÂŁ42,500 fine after it also pleaded guilty to other health and safety law breaches when a zoo keeper fell from a ladder while preparing to feed big cats in July 2014.

In response to the application by Gill for a fresh licence - and to effectively keep the zoo open - Government-appointed inspectors said they were “dismayed by the obvious deficiencies in the accommodation, the overcrowding and the lack of proper welfare and husbandry”.

They said the post-mortem database - detailing the deaths of 486 animals - “shows 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”.

Sarah McClay died after being injured in an attack by a Sumatran tiger in 2013
Sarah McClay died after being injured in an attack by a Sumatran tiger in 2013

It noted the “poor design facilities” of animal houses which “could and probably would act as both a potential danger to the staff and the animals”.

In reference to a number of animal escapes, the inspectors said that if a new licence was granted there was “a reasonable likelihood that animals may continue to escape, and that if escaped they might injuriously affect the health or safety of persons living in the neighbourhood”.

In a letter to the council, the Captive Animals Protection Society, which has conducted its own inspection visits, wrote: “The conduct of this zoo has been some of the worst we have seen in many years and we feel that a case for closure is strong.

Animal deaths at the zoo included:

  • Jaguar chewed off its own paw
  • Two snow leopard cubs discovered partially eaten in their enclosure
  • Two giraffes, both found to have poor levels of nutrition
  • Tortoise electrocuted
  • Lemur killed after entering wolf enclosure
  • Fennec fox died after getting its head stuck in a wire fence
  • Rhino crushed to death by its partner
  • Seven healthy lion cubs and five baboons euthanised due to lack of space

“We urge the council to take the opportunity to prevent more animal suffering at this zoo and also set an example to the entire industry that inadequate care and management will not be tolerated.”

In its recommendation to reject the application, council officers concluded: “The lack of senior supervision and management is evident throughout the zoo, including the failures of the local veterinary service, leading to deplorable standards, compromised welfare and deaths.”

Lawyers for Gill told the council that although he remained the licence holder he had stepped away from all trading and management activities connected with the zoo.

A picture of an emaciated kangaroo, taken by a member of the public and included in the report

They added that Gill was “absolutely committed to exiting the zoo” and transferring full responsibility to Cumbria Zoo Company.

On the zoo’s Facebook page, Cumbria Zoo Company’s chief executive Karen Brewer said it had a “continuing commitment to animal welfare” since the firm began operating the site in January.

She said the company’s commitment was to “strive to achieve high welfare standards for the animals in our care, be animal welfare leaders and advocates, and provide environments that focus on the animals’ physical and behavioural needs”.


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