UK zoo where tiger mauled keeper to death is 'still failing standards'
26th October 2022

Britain’s ‘worst zoo’ where nearly 500 animals died and keeper was mauled to death forced rhinos into ‘tiny stalls’ with no outdoor space and left other animals ‘isolated’ in enclosures, charity report reveals

  • Hygiene and welfare issues were identified at South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria
  • The damning report follows an investigation by the Born Free Foundation charity
  • Primates and sloths seemed to huddle around heat lamps after becoming cold

Britain’s ‘worst zoo’ where nearly 500 animals died in the space of three years and a keeper was mauled to death by a tiger almost a decade ago is still failing to meet ‘basic standards’ of animal welfare, a fresh investigation has found.

A string of hygiene and welfare issues were identified at the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Lindal In Furness, Cumbria, following an inspection by international wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation on October 17 this year. 

According to a damning report, raw meat was seen left in a bucket outside the tiger enclosure covered in flies, rats were seen in the raccoon and tortoise enclosures and rhinos were kept in stalls so small they were only capable of turning themselves around. 

A series of bleak photos show the seemingly poor conditions suffered by some of the animals, as ‘cold’ primates are seen clinging to heat lamps in a bid to keep warm due to incorrect temperature settings. One heartbreaking image shows a tortoise with a sloth on its back as they appear to huddle together for warmth. 

Elsewhere, a macaw is seen with ‘severe feather loss around its neck and a lack of feathers remaining on the top of its head’, while a brown bear inside its lodgings is seen sticking its head out of a small window. 

According to the report, and in a potentially serious health and safety risk, there were sometimes no staff present in walk-through enclosures that allowed the public to engage with ‘Category 1 hazardous animals’ – a categorisation for zoos which refers to predators such as tigers, lions, elephants and lynx.

The alleged failings come after keeper Sarah McClay, from Glasgow, was mauled to death by a tiger at the zoo in 2013. Bosses were later fined £297,500 for health and safety breaches.

And in 2017 a council report revealed 486 animals had died between December 2013 and September 2016. While a Barrow Borough Council inspection last year left inspectors ‘impressed’ with improvements made, they added that there was ‘still much to do’.

The zoo has now been slammed by Born Free over hygiene issues and claims animals have been left isolated, cold, and given no time outside.

A visitor to the South Lakes Safari Zoo feeds a giraffe some carrots. A damning report claims giraffe were being fed ‘inappropriate quantities of carrots’ in contrast to natural dietary items such as leaves – with one visitor witnessing 52 guests feeding the animals

A young monkey clings to the mesh below a heat lamp at the zoo amid concerns its habitat is not being kept warm enough

A litany of hygiene and welfare issues were identified at the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria (pictured), following a probe by international wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation

A macaw is seen at the zoo with ‘severe feather loss around its neck and a lack of feathers remaining on the top of its head’

A tortoise and a sloth both huddle underneath a heat lamp at the Safari Lakes Zoo in Cumbria

Despite being a herd species, zebras were separated into individual stalls and shut out overnight with no bedding or heating, Born Free said

A brown bear looks out of a small window at the South Lakes Safari Zoo during an inspection earlier this month

Rhinos were reportedly kept in stalls so small they were only capable of turning themselves around


A bear stares through a fence inside its enclosure at the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria

MailOnline has contacted the zoo for comment.  

The report published by Born Free claims some rhinos were confined to ‘tiny stalls’ with only enough room to turn around, and not provided with any outdoor space.

It said despite being a herd species, zebras were separated into individual stalls and shut out overnight with no bedding or heating.

The charity claimed raw meat was left in a bucket outside the tiger enclosure covered in flies and in full view of visitors.

The report states: ‘Some rhinos may not be provided outdoor access at all during the day. In some cases, they are confined to tiny stalls which just allow them to turn around.

‘Despite being a herd species, each zebra appears to be separated into an individual stall and potentially kept inside all day.

‘The zebra may then be shut out overnight, including during winter, however no bedding or heating was observed in the outdoor shelter.

‘The zoo continues to fail to maintain animals in their natural social groupings.’

A female giraffe was seen to have ‘extremely overgrown and curved hooves’, the reported stated.

It said giraffe were being fed ‘inappropriate quantities of carrots’ in contrast to natural dietary items such as leaves – with one visitor witnessing 52 guests feeding the animals.

A rat is pictured in an enclosure behind a tortoise 

Raw meat is seen dumped in a bucket outside the tiger enclosure

The report added: ‘All giraffes were observed performing various oral stereotypes throughout the day, which is likely due to a lack of sufficient browse provision.

‘A few branches were provided first thing in the morning but were not replaced throughout the inspection.

‘It appeared that this was to increase the likelihood of giraffes participating in experiences where visitors pay to feed them inappropriate quantities of carrots, in contrast to natural dietary items such as leaves and stems.

‘During one visitor experience session at least 52 guests fed a handful of carrots to two male giraffes.’

Born Free said there was a ‘lack of any visible enrichment in enclosures throughout the zoo’ and labelled the heat provision as ‘sub-standard’.

The report stated: ‘A number of primates were seen clinging to the mesh to get as close to heat lamps as possible.

‘A sloth was seen clinging to mesh just inches above the ground to access a heat lamp intended for tortoises, who were also trying to access the lamp.

‘These observations strongly suggest that the ambient temperature in these enclosures is not suitable for the species housed within them.’

The charity alleged that hygiene procedures during animal food provision appeared to fall ‘well short of the standards’ that should be expected.

The report added: ‘Raw meat was seen to be left in a bucket outside the tiger enclosure on the inside of the keeper gate.

A visitor at the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria stands over a kangaroo with a small fence dividing them 

It comes after keeper Sarah McClay (pictured), from Glasgow, was mauled to death by a tiger in 2013. The zoo was later fined £297,500 for health and safety breaches

Scores of visitors queue up to feed a giraffe amid concerns the animals were being fed far too much 

‘This was covered in flies and in full view of visitors who could have easily come into contact with it.

‘Rats were observed in the raccoon and tortoise enclosures.

‘In summary, it is our strong view that the zoo continues to fail to meet even basic standards of animal welfare and visitor safety in a number of respects.’

Born Free wrote to Barrow Borough Council to formally highlight their concerns observed during the visit.

A Barrow Borough Council spokeswoman said: ‘I can confirm that the council received a report from Born Free in regards to the South Lakes Safari Zoo.

‘The issues raised in their report are similar to reports recently received directly to the council.

‘We take allegations of this nature seriously and will work with the Zoo to address them.

‘Any enforcement matters will be reported at a licensing hearing, should that be necessary.’

At a Barrow Borough Council inspection last year inspectors were ‘impressed’ with improvements made since the last visit but added that there was ‘still much to do’.

Following the council’s most recent inspection, carried out earlier this year, zoo bosses were told to improve the security of enclosures amid fears baboons could escape.

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