UK Zoo Failing To Meet ‘Basic Standards Of Welfare’, Investigation Finds

South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria has come under fire for animal welfare breaches


4 Minutes Read

A macaw in a zoo clutching at the wire fence Investigators found a "lack of any visible enrichment" in many enclosures - Media Credit: Chris Lewis/Born Free

An investigation by Born Free has uncovered a number of alleged animal welfare breaches at a zoo in Cumbria, England. 

According to the wildlife charity’s report, animals at South Lakes Safari Zoo were living with inadequate space and unnatural social groupings. 

Investigators also found a giraffe with “extremely overgrown and curved hooves,” which they said should have been prevented. One Andean bear also appeared to show signs of zoochosis. This is a form of psychosis that occurs in animals living in captivity. 

“Despite being a herd species, each zebra appears to be separated into an individual stall and potentially kept inside all day,” the report stated. “The zebra may then be shut out overnight, including during winter. However, no bedding or heating was observed in the outdoor shelter.”

The report also added that rhinos were being kept in stalls “too small for them to turn around.”

Investigators said that there was a “lack of any visible enrichment in enclosures throughout the zoo.” They also labeled the heat provision as “sub-standard.”

The report stated: “A number of primates were seen clinging to the mesh to get as close to heat lamps as possible. A sloth was seen clinging to mesh just inches above the ground to access a heat lamp intended for tortoises, who were also trying to access the lamp.”

It added that these observations “strongly suggest” that the temperature in their enclosures is “not suitable” for the species. 

The UK’s ‘worst zoo’

This isn’t the first time South Lakes Safari Zoo has come under fire. It has previously been branded the “UK’s worst zoo,” and a report published in 2017 found that 486 animals had died in the space of three years.

In 2013, a 24-year-old keeper tragically died after being mauled by a tiger. The zoo was later fined £297,500 for health and safety breaches.

The impact of the report

After compiling the report, Born Free wrote a letter to Barrow Borough Council to formally highlight its concerns. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the council said: “I can confirm that the council received a report from Born Free in regards to the South Lakes Safari Zoo. The issues raised in their report are similar to reports recently received directly to the council.

“We take allegations of this nature seriously and will work with the zoo to address them. Any enforcement matters will be reported at a licensing hearing, should that be necessary.”

After the report went public, the zoo released a statement saying Born Free’s claims were “inaccurate.” 

It stated that it “respected” the animal welfare organization’s opinions on zoos. However, the spokesperson claimed that conservation efforts are at the “forefront” of “what zoos are trying to do.” It is worth noting that such claims about conservation have been disputed by a number of experts.

The spokesperson continued: “The report contains inaccurate presumptions and, understandably, inaccurate clinical assessment.”

“Cumbria Zoo has, in our last four years, been inspected by over 35 government appointed independent inspectors with the overwhelming outcomes of those inspections being hugely positive, and the continuing progress we make here at Safari Zoo recognised.” 

‘Disappointing’ response

Born Free has responded to the rebuttal. Chris Lewis is Born Free’s captivity research officer. In a statement to Plant Based News, he said: “It is disappointing and concerning to see the zoo refute our findings. It suggests an unwillingness to accept fault or implement change; especially when considering the evidence obtained.”

Lewis also pointed out that several pieces of evidence were obtained from talking to zoo staff. He added: “These concerns are not limited to our own and Barrow-In-Furness Council have informed Born Free that they intend to inspect the zoo again, following similar complaints they have received from other individuals, highlighting our concerns are not occurring in a vacuum.”

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