Tuesday, 13 November 2018

CARL WRITES: 5/11/18 - Staveley, Cumbria

Read the original story here.

There is very likely at least one large felid roaming the south Lakeland area and I have sneaking suspicion where it might have escaped from. South Lakes Safari Zoo is probably the most controversial zoo in Britain. Why, one might ask, is this zoo considered to be so controversial when there are plenty of other unscrupulous establishments throughout the country? Well, its probably down to the unsettling reports that have been appearing since June 2016. Since the zoo’s licence came up for renewal two years ago, government inspectors revealed that 486 animals had died between December 2013 and September 2016, many of them due to living in cruel conditions. South Lakes Safari Zoo had already been in the headlines on 24th May 2013, after Sarah McClay, a 23 year old zookeeper was mauled to death by a Sumatran tiger. The following year the zoo was fined £255,500, not including fees, by the courts for health and safety breaches that lead to her untimely and horrific death.

“In the first six months of 2016, 13 animals died of trauma, three starved, a lemur drowned, and a jaguar chewed off its paw”.

Among the animal deaths were two snow leopard cubs, Miska and Natasja, found partly eaten by other leopards in their enclosure; a rhinoceros crushed to death by its partner; a squirrel monkey died after getting stuck behind a radiator and left there; an African spurred tortoise that had been electrocuted when it became entangled in electric fencing. Poison used to kill rats had also lead to the deaths of at least two unspecified animals and lemurs and many birds had been crushed to death by the zoo’s miniature train. Five Inca terns had died from exposure, an alpaca from hypothermia, a bird had been euthanised after its beak had been broken. Thirteen other animals had died from trauma, and three from starvation. A beautiful jaguar named Saka had chewed off its own paw after damaging it on broken glass and exposed nails.

That same month a report was published, the Captive Animals’ Protection Society visited the zoo and published photographs of an emaciated kangaroo, and penguins suffering in the 29C summer heat in an empty pool.

In August, 2006, an escaped South American goat was recaptured using a tranquiliser dart after wandering into a local garden. The following month, a government inspector said escapes were “a matter for concern” and recommended procedures to prevent animals using an overhead walkway as a means of escape. In 2010, a capuchin monkey escaped for five days and was eventually recaptured in a church; two months later the council renewed the zoo’s licence!

Management of the zoo has now been handed over to a newly formed group, the Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd, who has been running the establishment since January, 2017, and as of 9, May, 2017, Barrow Council voted to grant the company a four year licence, after inspectors gave positive reports of how the zoo appears to have turned things around.

The Zoo’s previous owner during it’s troubles, David Gill, a self-styled wrangler; the type often seen working with tigers and crocodiles on television, or hunting them down on safari, has been accused of animal cruelty before, when in 1997, an extremely rare three tonne white rhino escaped from its enclosure into a car park, fell into a ditch and was unfortunately shot dead. Gill was fined £10,000 by Kendal magistrates court for endangering the public and failing to have adequate barriers.

I would not be at all surprised if this once terribly run zoo might have failed to report an escapee at some point, especially of a potentially dangerous nocturnal animal that would, over time, likely wander far away from the vicinity of the zoo. If a rhinoceros can escape, I’m sure a light-footed leopard could too – the only difference being a leopard would likely not be seen again. I wouldn’t blame the animal in the slightest for wanting to escape this once awful place! Like many zoos, this institution also had a proven record for not being honest when questioned.

When zookeeper, Sarah McClay was mauled to death, her kin were informed that she had died because she had failed to follow protocol and for some unknown reason had walked into the enclosure. Gill told press Sarah had made an unwise and baffling mistake. It took just over three years for the truth to come out at inquest. Sarah was in a staff corridor next to the tiger enclosure when the tiger attacked and mauled her – a bolt on one of the gates was proven to be defective!

However, the report in The Westmorland Gazette does not describe a big cat. In fact it does not really describe anything at all! It is assuming that Vicky Parkinson knows a big cat when she sees one, which unfortunately for our purposes is not sufficient evidence. It would be useful if we could at least ascertain what subject Mrs Parkinson teaches! I mean, if she teaches biology or anatomy we could take her report at face value.

Even the evidence of the two deer running from an unseen predator does not prove there was a large cat in the area, as on many occasions I have personally witnessed deer running thorough woodland, disappearing, and then a few seconds later an average sized domestic dog will come prowling through the same area - obviously in pursuit of the deer.

With the lack of any real details it’s difficult to say whether Mrs Parkinson witnessed a big cat or not!

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