New company takes reins of Dalton Zoo and pledges animal welfare is top priority

THE Safari Zoo has spoken out after it was revealed that there had been nearly 500 animal deaths in four years.

The new management team, who took over six weeks ago, said they have learnt from the historic incidents.

They have drawn up a long list of things they will change and the zoo will be undergoing major shakeup.

Cumbria Zoo Company Limited (Cumbria Zoo) say they are now fully in charge of the site and David Gill has no management responsibility.

The zoo's chief executive officer, Karen Brewer, said they had had two inspections so far this year and passed with flying colours.

The animal deaths at the Dalton zoo, from 2013 to 2016 were revealed in a report that was commissioned by Cumbria Zoo as part of a thorough assessment.

The council's licensing regulatory committee will decide the zoo's fate at a meeting on Monday.

Karen explained the current situation: “South Lakes Safari Zoo is operated by Cumbria Zoo Company Limited, with Mr David Gill remaining the licence holder. The licence application for Cumbria Zoo is under review and the zoo can only operate under the licence of Mr Gill until the zoo licence for Cumbria Zoo is determined later this year.

“Mr Gill has clearly demonstrated his wish to pass his legacy to a new team whom will take the zoo forward in a positive, responsible manner ensuring legal compliance and best practice in animal husbandry, animal welfare and optimal guest experience in a safe, engaging environment for all the family.

“Mr Gill has no management, operational or other role in the operation of the Safari Zoo.”

Karen added: “We are passionate about our animals and about ensuring a culture of care and love, meeting their needs to showcase our animals and allowing them to engage with visitors, whilst being valued and respected.

“We are  thoroughly committed to delivering high standards of animal welfare for the animals in our care and others impacted by our conservation activities. We have a global approach to meeting our animal welfare needs, focusing on the physical needs of the individual animals as well as their psychological requirements. We aspire to the model of the ‘five domains’, aspiring to meet all of the requirements our animals need to have optimal quality of life.

“Our team are focused and strive on a daily basis to provide opportunities and choice for our animals. Our philosophy is to ensure animals in our care are provided with an environment that is both stimulating and challenging. To support our commitment, we have surrounded ourselves with consummate professional zoo consultants knowledgeable and well respected within the zoo profession to develop and implement best practice across our animal operations and meet our wider vision.

“Our efforts have not gone unnoticed and despite the short time in which we have had sole operation of the site, we have developed and mitigated many of the welfare concerns that were inherited when we took over.

“We acknowledge that we have a long way to go and we never accept that we cannot improve our animal welfare provision. It is core to what we believe and what we do.  

“However, words mean nothing - they are a philosophy and an idea. That is why we believe in action rather than looking to blame individuals or groups that may have led to the recent historical situation reported in the press.

“Our actions demonstrate our commitment through what we have achieved in the last few months and through the difficult process of reviewing where we were, what had to be done to make short term gains in animal welfare and plan for the future ensuring as we develop and welcome guests through our doors we can be proud of what we have achieved and know we have provided, and continue to improve upon, optimal animal welfare.

“We have demanded of our consultants complete transparency and openness throughout the review process.  A large proportion of the documentation released by Barrow Council was proactively provided by Cumbria Zoo to meet the requirements of the zoo licence inspection process as well as providing evidence of our robust welfare, operational and husbandry systems evolving at Safari Zoo.”

Karen said these included but not limited to:
• The commissioning of a complete animal welfare audit, including a review of mortality and morbidity statistics over the last five years; complete housing audit and stocking density review; nutrition audit; and development of effective enrichment programmes, to allow identification of areas of welfare concern and to allow rapid steps to be taken to implement positive change both in the short and the long term.
• A review of veterinary services, preventative and curative health provision, with a permanent veterinary nurse joining the team in late 2016 and the provision of new partners in animal health care to be implemented in March 2017.
• A complete review of population management, group structures and group dynamics to ensure rationalised numbers of animals are found on the site, with a reduction in many group sizes to ensure effective use of our facilities and resources, always aiming to provide optimal welfare
• A proactive programme of maintenance and rebuilding across the animal enclosures, identifying priorities and addressing them in a sensible and practicable fashion. This is clearly seen with many changes occurring in the last four weeks including new hard stands for the hippos, improved substrates for the Chilean flamingos and penguins, large outdoor enclosures for our primates where previously they were limited to indoor housing only, and many others.
• A complete review and cultural change programme with regard to animal management, husbandry and welfare delivery. Ethical review programmes became proactive and effective tools for change, supported by senior management support of positive welfare changes across all species in the collection.

Karen continued: “ These are just some examples of the far reaching and positive changes that are occurring across the site through Cumbria Zoo’s actions. We know we have much more work to do to get to the levels we are striving for.

“In addition to the positive welfare and cultural changes that have occurred this year we are proud to announce that Cumbria Zoo Company Limited has been offered (and accepted ) the opportunity to buy South Lakes Safari Zoo Ltd, the former operating company managing Safari Zoo.   

“Questions have been asked of our dedicated team’s ability to enforce the changes needed. We know we can and we have demonstrated our commitment to Safari Zoo, the animals in our care and the legislative requirements of a modern operational zoo.

“ Over the last six weeks we have been in complete control of the zoo and we have made significant improvements in many areas of the animal operation. In this period we, under the operational control of Cumbria Zoo Company Limited, has been inspected twice by Barrow Borough Council Officers and Secretary of State Zoo Licence Inspectors (18th January and 9th February 2017) and the feedback has been positive, with progress and improvements directly attributed to the hard work of Cumbria Zoo.
“One such example of this trust in Cumbria Zoo was demonstrated during the January inspection where a zoo closure direction order was considered because of failing welfare standards in the Tambopata Aviary that was outside of our control at the time. The inspection team approached Cumbria Zoo and following discussions with South Lakes Safari Zoo Limited the area was handed over to Cumbria Zoo control and the area reviewed with mitigation strategies immediately put in place to resolve immediate and longer term welfare concerns.
“We have work to do, we know we do.  A modern zoo should continually strive to be better in all it does. We are pushing hard to meet our goals, without compromise to achieve high standards for the animals in our care and for our staff and local community and we drive forward to earn Safari Zoo its place in the modern zoo community. We are open, come and see for yourself for free. Your support is all the more vital now.”

The Safari Zoo is a popular local attraction and the Cumbria Zoo team have certainly got a big task on their hands. Although some of the local community have voiced there opinion to have the zoo closed down for good, and others are pulling together to support the new team and wish them the best of look in turning the zoo around. 

Carrie-Anne Mavin from Ashington, Northumberland, spent a day as a keeper last weekend, left a lovely note on the Safari Zoo's Facebook page, which said: "Just wanted to say I have seen all the negative press in the media and feel so sad about it. 

"I did keeper for the day with yourselves at the weekend and saw nothing but first class care, treatment and genuine love for the animals by each and every one of the keepers I worked with. 

"I had one of the best days ever, loved every minute of it (even cleaning out stinky rhino poo!!) and learned a lot. I saw clear evidence of how far the park had progressed since my last visit and was touched by the special bonds keepers and animals had, especially Yaz and Wolfgang! Thank you for an amazing day."

Another comment left by Faye Barett said: "I truly hope this zoo can turn things around because as a family with young children this is one of our favourite places to visit however after the things we've recently read about and been told first hand by friends visiting we are considering not returning again. It's very sad to see how bad the situation has become. We really do hope things change so we can continue to enjoy what was an amazing experience and family day out."

HuddleHub have created a Facebook Group for you to show your support for the new company, the team that's working really hard and to show your support and desire to make things better for the future of these beautiful animals. Please feel free to share your pictures, videos and wonderful stories. 


Images: © Safari Zoo.


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