When things go wrong
The recent news that the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria may be closed down permanently may come as a shock to some. Read the coverage here.
The facility was last in the news in 2013 when one of their keepers was tragically killed by a Sumatran Tiger.
The latest episode relates to an escalation of concerns raised by their Zoo Inspector regarding the management structure within the park and also the abnormally high number of animal mortalities in recent years.
The zoo’s own records indicated that a number of the deaths were preventable and therefore should not have happened.
To gain a better understanding of why this situation has arisen you need to read between the lines and understand more about the inspection process.
All Zoos and Aquariums in the UK are governed by a piece of legislation called the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. The legislation in overseen by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but it is enforced by the Local Authority that the facility lies within.
Obviously not many councils have experts in Zoos and Aquariums within their teams so DEFRA appoints a number of trained Zoo Inspectors to assist the local authorities with regular inspections.
During the routine Zoo License Inspections all aspects of a facilities management and operation is scrutinised in detail with every aspect of the operation of the facility being looked at.
The scope of the facilities education, research and conservation programmes are assessed with regard to the number of visitors, and therefore the income that a facility enjoys, in order to ensure that each facility is judged fairly and the expectation placed on them are reasonable.
However, the basic elements of Health and Safety and animal health and welfare are not open for negotiation and these elements must be compliant.
In order for the UK Zoo and Aquarium sector to be robust and able to answer challenges from Government, the public and lobby groups we need to have confidence that this system works. We all need to be certain that the inspection process ensures that poorly run facilities are given reasonable chances to improve and, if they cannot then regrettably they should be shut down.
It is relatively rare for a facilities Zoo License to be removed but this does not mean that the legislation does not work. Every year 100’s of recommendations for improvements are issued through the inspection process which are followed up on well. These recommendations ensure that zoos and aquariums across the country continue to improve and move forward.
If, indeed, the news about South Lakes Safari Zoo is true and there has been an ineffective management structure in place which led, amongst other things, to the unnecessary suffering and death of animals then I for one applaud the decision to remove the facilities license.
There is no room in our modern age for poorly run zoological organisations and DEFRA are correct in taken decisive action.
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