Regulations on zoo animal welfare varies in different countries. In the United States, a zoo simply needs to ensure that animals are not facing imminent death, and living spaces are not required to be any bigger than what allows the animal to stand and turn around. In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the Zoo Licensing Act requires the all-around safety of animals, including their psychological and social needs.
That explains why inspectors from the Captive Animals’ Protection Society were appalled when they discovered the abhorrent conditions at South Lakes Safari Zooin Cumbria, England, where almost 500 animals have died in the past four years.
Just how bad were the conditions? See for yourself…
When inspectors from the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) visited South Lakes Safari Zoo (now known as Cumbria Zoo) in the U.K. last July, they were shocked at what they saw.
“Things like a kangaroo who was emaciated,” Madeline Taylor, campaigns officer for CAPS, told The Dodo. “A lemur that had a sore on its side. A mongoose who had a visible skin condition with missing fur.”
CAPS inspectors weren’t the only ones to survey the zoo, and to discover lots of animal welfare issues. On at least two occasions in 2016, government officials inspected the zoo, and found that animals had died — or were dying — from causes like emaciation, hypothermia or preventable and traumatic accidents. These findings are publicly available online (see Appendix N under the meeting date of March 6, 2017).
No fewer than 486 animals have died at this zoo in the past four years.
Sadly, it wasn’t the first time that South Lakes Safari Zoo had been accused of unlawful animal treatment on founder David Gill’s watch. In May 2013, a Sumatran tiger escaped from his enclosure and killed a 24-year-old zookeeper. The zoo was fined more than $300,000. David claimed that the zookeeper died because she failed to follow proper procedures.
“I think the most disturbing thing for me is that this has been going on for years,” Taylor said. “They’ve been told to bring things up to standard, and there’s been a blatant disregard for the zoo inspectors. There seems to be … a lack of willingness to take on board certain standards, so they can make basic requirements for the animals.”
CAPS has other concerns about the zoo too. For instance, their inspectors witnessed visitors physically interacting with animals last July.
The list of dangerous conditions didn’t end there. CAPS investigators also witnessed penguins kept in a concrete enclosure on a hot summer day with no water. “With certain animals, you’ve got the risk of disease transfer,” Taylor said. “Then you’ve got the risk of certain animals being dangerous.”
CAPS campaign officer Madeline Tayor The Dodo “Our investigators stood right there with the penguins in their concrete enclosure with no water in it, which ironically, had some taps running next to it—water was running, and the penguins didn’t have any water to swim in.”
“This zoo seems completely incapable of providing even the most basic things for animals,” Taylor added. “They’re having to be told how you’re supposed to provide for wild animals.”
Animals had been dying of hypothermia, emaciation, and more. One giraffe died from a possible E. coli infection, while another had to be euthanized after he could not stand. A mongoose had a visible skin condition and was missing fur. Perhaps most frightening was when two snow leopard cubs were found partially eaten in their enclosure.
“That was huge news at the time — really tragic,” Taylor said.
But now, there’s a chance that things will change at South Lakes Safari Zoo. Based on the disturbing findings of the government zoo inspections, the local council is questioning whether or not to renew the zoo’s license. At a meeting on Monday, they’ll make a decision.
Of course, South Lakes Safari Zoo isn’t the only facility where animals suffer and die from preventable or unnecessary causes. These issues exist at most roadside zoos, according to Taylor. The only thing distinguishing South Lakes Safari Zoo from other facilities is the the fact that this zoo’s inspection reports became publicly available.
“There are often sufferings and deaths going on behind the scenes,” Taylor said. “A lot of people don’t realize that.”
South Lakes Safari Zoo could not immediately be reached for comment.
Zoo animals like these are so mistreated that it is hard to comprehend what their lives must be like. One can only hope that the Captive Animals’ Protection Society will win this fight for the sake of these and all zoo animals!
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To encourage the council to shut the zoo down, you can sign this petition. To help animals like these, you can make a donation to CAPS to support ongoing investigations of animal welfare issues at zoos.