Appalling conditions in zoos across Britain can today be laid bare by the Mail.
Just two days after a keeper was mauled to death by a tiger at a wildlife park in Cambridgeshire, a damning investigation reveals serious failings over safety, security and animal welfare.
Using Freedom of Information laws, we were able to obtain almost 170 zoo inspection reports from local authorities across England and Wales.
At least 24 attractions appeared to have serious issues, while at least a further 17 were told they could only continue operating if they adhered to lengthy lists of conditions.
Woodside Wildlife Park in Lincolnshire, which performed badly in its most-recent inspection. Pictured is a tiger being hand-fed by public
Yet only one wildlife park was refused a licence. Experts last night said the Mail had uncovered ‘significant animal welfare concerns’, while MPs called for an urgent review of licensing rules.
There were also calls for the creation of a national zoo inspectorate to ensure basic standards of care and safety.
The Mail’s findings come after 33-year-old Rosa King died at Hamerton Zoo in Cambridgeshire on Monday.
Three weeks ago, South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria was allowed to keep its licence even though almost 500 animals died there in under four years and a keeper was killed by a tiger in 2013.
Our investigation today reveals a string of failings, with some zoos keeping animals in such shoddy enclosures that they are regularly escaping.
At one park, chimps died when their enclosure was accidentally overheated, while at a drive-through safari primates tested positive for tuberculosis.
Star attraction Colin the Caiman (pictured) allegedly died when keepers at Beaver Water World in Surrey left him outside during cold weather
The shocking conditions were disclosed by inspection reports requested from every council in England and Wales, covering around 230 zoos in total.
Currently, there is no government oversight of wildlife parks. Zoos are only formally inspected by local authorities every three to four years followed by annual visits.
These can be by environmental health officers with no animal experience. There findings are not routinely published.
Reports revealed how security lapses exposed the public to danger. As recently as January, a female orang-utan escaped from her enclosure at Chester Zoo – a year after four others escaped from the same area.
Formerly a bird sanctuary, Lincolnshire Wildlife Park drew complaints from residents when it announced two years ago it would start keeping tigers – despite fears there was no perimeter fence.
The Mail’s findings come after 33-year-old Rosa King died at Hamerton Zoo in Cambridgeshire on Monday
A 2015 inspection report raised concerns that no staff had experience looking after large mammals – let alone big cats – and there were no weapons onsite should they escape.
But the animals arrived regardless. The attraction has since built an appropriate enclosure housing 11 Bengal tigers.
In Kent, there were six escapes by macaques at Howletts Wild Animal Park – one in 2013 and five last year. In 2009, a pack of wild hunting dogs went missing and a tiger was shot dead in 2001 after breaking free from its enclosure.
A report into Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire revealed that a drive-through enclosure for Barbary macaques was kept open after the primates tested positive for a strain of tuberculosis.
Concerns were raised anonymously to council chiefs by employees, who said they feared they would be dismissed if they complained to zoo bosses. The attraction said visitors were not at risk of infection.
Staff also revealed how a peacock that was quarantined because of bird flu died of starvation when staff forgot to check on it. It was later found partially eaten by rats. A Barbary macaque that escaped three times in one day ending up near a public footpath where, according to a report, it posed a ‘danger to human life’.
Ponderosa Rural Therapeutic Centre in Heckmondwicke, Yorkshire, used to house farm animals but expanded to include lemurs, reindeer and parrots.
Reports revealed dozens of large exotic animals including a rainbow boa constrictor and a Mexican black king snake died last year in unexplained circumstances. Reindeers covered in sores were left in knee-deep mud and stones were used to keep enclosures shut.
The RSPCA and members of the public lodged 11 complaints in less than three years, but it continues to operate. At Hoo Farm Animal Kingdom in Telford, Shropshire, a macaw labelled ‘anti-social’ was locked in a shed and a wallaby and its young were ‘loose in unexplained circumstances’ during an inspection.
The park was given 46 conditions to improve but was allowed to continue operating.
Chris Draper of the wildlife charity Born Free, said: ‘The Daily Mail has pulled together a shocking list of issues covering significant animal welfare concerns, accidents and human safety issues. It makes for depressing reading. Our suspicion is that similar problems are widespread and under-reported.
The mother of Miss King, pictured with one of the zoo’s tigers, said she ‘loved the job’ and ‘would not have done anything else’
‘We need a robust system of licensing and inspection of zoos – as a minimum – to try to prevent such appalling incidents from occurring in the future.’
John Woodcock, the Labour candidate for Barrow and Furness, said: ‘There needs to be an urgent parliamentary debate on what is a shockingly inadequate zoo licensing regime in this country.
‘The atrocities at South Lakes and now Hamerton have highlighted the need for a national level inspectorate to replace the local vested interests which currently exist.
‘It beggars belief that such major enterprises which account for many thousands of animals are run in such an amateurish fashion.’
Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Kate Parminter called for the introduction of minimum standards to protect staff and animals.
The Local Government Association said councils had the power to revoke licences where ‘strict conditions are not being met’.
The owners of a zoo where a tiger mauled a female keeper to death were warned about safety failings several times over the past decade
They refused to comment directly on the Mail’s revelations. Dr Ros Clubb, of the RSPCA’s wildlife department, added: ‘Clearly there are serious welfare issues in the examples exposed by the Mail. The zoo licensing system needs to be urgently addressed.’
Steven Cook, owner of Ponderosa Rural Therapeutic Centre, said: ‘We did have quite a bad report in 2015 but since then we have had a complete change of management and refurbishments have taken place.’
Will Dorrell, manager at Hoo Farm, said the macaw was now outside and the wallaby had escaped because of a visitor holding a door open. Surrey’s Chessington World of Adventures, where officials recorded concerns about a performing parrot, said it adheres to strict codes of practice to protect its animals.
A spokesman said it is still waiting for the local authority to supply it with a list of conditions following its inspection in September, but ‘as reputable zoo, we have already acted on these to guarantee optimum care for our animals’.
Snake that tried to choke disabled keeper
A disabled woman on work experience performing animal demonstrations at Snakes Alive at Barleylands, Essex had to be saved by members of the public when a corn snake wrapped tightly around her neck, reports reveal. Zoo director Daniel Hepplethwaite said: ‘Unfortunately she couldn’t get the snake from her neck and a member of staff was called to remove it.’
Peacock’s head eaten by rats
Whistleblowers described how a peacock put in isolation because of a bird flu outbreak was forgotten about and died of starvation – before rats ‘ate its head’. A report into the incident at Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire said: ‘We were assured that this was a very unusual scenario caused by human error and communication breakdown.’
Croc left to die outside in winter
At Beaver Water World in Surrey, star attraction Colin the Caiman is said to have died when keepers left him outside during cold weather. After the death, keepers told visitors he had been moved to a ‘good home’ to ‘sugar the pill’ for the public.
Owner Stella Quayle has admitted the caiman – a close relative of the crocodile – died because he was left outside, but a zoo spokesman subsequently said the enclosure was indoors and heated to 30C at the time.
Gates kept shut with stones
Inspectors found gates to enclosures for large animals were kept shut with stones at Ponderosa Rural Therapeutic Centre, Yorkshire. Officials said 18 of the largest and most exotic animals died in unexplained circumstances in 2016 alone.
A spokesman said: ‘We are a completely different operation from 12 months ago. We have new management and new animals.’
Mystery deaths of meerkats
Poor record keeping was criticised in reports into Woodside Wildlife Park, Lincolnshire, where officials noted the unexplained deaths of 14 meerkats, 16 bats and four prairie dogs in 12 months. Director Neil Mumby attributed the high death toll to ‘clerical inputting errors’.
Penguins savaged by foxes
four rock hopper penguins were killed by a fox which had got in after an electric fence failed at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire in 2013. The same problem occurred three years previously, when six penguins died. A spokesman said the fence was repaired immediately following the 2013 attack.
Monkeys escape through the roof
Five escapes by monkeys were recorded in eight months last year due to poor maintenance and dilapidated enclosures at Kent’s Howletts Wild Animal Park. In one incident, 11 Javan langur monkeys fled together when a gate was left open.
Animal director Adrian Harland said disciplinary action had been taken against a keeper. Holes in a monkey house roof which allowed the escapes had since been fixed.
Owls tethered to their perches
At Thirsk Birds of Prey Centre in Yorkshire, owls were found to have been permanently tethered to perches and some had no access to daylight. Conditions made at an earlier inspection were not enforced because officials forgot to carry out further checks. Owner Colin Badgery said: ‘No owls are now permanently tethered.’
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Safari zoo boss: David Gill and wife