Zoo where almost 500 animals died and keeper killed by tiger granted licence

In March, David Gill, the owner and founder of South Lakes Safari Zoo, was refused a renewal of his existing licence. Credit: PA

A zoo where almost 500 animals died within four years and a keeper was killed by a tiger can stay open after being granted a licence.

Some 486 animals died at South Lakes Safari Zoo between January 2013 and September 2016, while one of its employees Sarah McClay, 24, was killed by a Sumatran tiger in May 2013.

In March, David Gill, the owner and founder of the Dalton-in-Furness attraction, was refused a renewal of his existing licence after Government inspectors voiced concerns over the zoo's management structure and veterinary care which it labelled "inadequate".

On Tuesday a subsequent application in the name of Cumbria Zoo Company Limited (CZCL), which has operated the zoo since January, was approved after licencing committee members in Barrow-in-Furness were told the same inspection team was "highly encouraged" by improvements made under a new management team.

Members of the council's licensing regulatory committee were told that Mr Gill has stepped away from all trading and management activities connected with the zoo in Dalton-in-Furness.

In a report to the council, Government inspectors noted they were "impressed and highly encourages by the improvements made".

The company said it was committed to developing its "passion to make Safari Zoo a zoo that the team here can demonstrate to the world we are a positive force for change".

Sarah McClay, 24, was attacked in the keepers' corridor. Credit: ITV Granada

In June 2016, the zoo, opened in 1994 by Mr Gill, was fined £255,000 at Preston Crown Court after one of its employees, Sarah McClay, 24, was killed by a Sumatran tiger in May 2013.

It received an additional £42,500 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.

Inspectors said a post-mortem database, detailing the deaths of 486 animals from January 2013 to September 2016, showed "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''.

The committee heard the animals which had died included a jaguar called Saka who had a bite wound to its paw and injuries which indicated "chronic, ongoing self-traumatisation''.

David Gill, the owner and founder of South Lakes Safari Zoo. Credit: PA

A number of animal welfare groups had been calling for the licence application to be rejected.

The Captive Animals' Protection Society say many of the changes made "simply provide the bare minimum are too little too late" and should have been in place throughout the history of the zoo and since CZCL chief executive Karen Brewer had been in a management position.

While the Born Free Foundation stated: "It is important to note that this is not solely a management issue that can be fixed by awarding a zoo licence to another applicant."