New day dawns for Dalton zoo as it gains licence at landmark meeting
A ZOO dogged by controversy begins a new chapter today after the firm at its helm secured a licence to operate the attraction.
Directors and staff at Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd are celebrating after being awarded the permit for South Lakes Safari Zoo at the end of a tense seven-hour meeting yesterday.
The move secures the future of the zoo, near Dalton, for the next four years providing it continues to meet a list of strict conditions.
For the licence to become effective, zoo founder and conservationist David Gill, must surrender his own zoo licence appeal within five working days.
Cumbria Zoo boss Karen Brewer said the last 18 months had been stressful for her team, but that their hard work and perseverance had paid off.
"This marks the start of a new chapter for the zoo.
"It all seems quite surreal at the moment but we are back to work now and the hard work will carry on."
Earlier, she had told members of Barrow Borough Council's licensing regulatory committee - which had the power to grant or refuse the zoo licence - that it felt "liberating" to finally be in control of the Dalton attraction's destiny.
She said: "This is the first time that I can sit before you and give you my own thoughts rather than those of my former employer. It also feels liberating to be in control of the destiny of the zoo."
Council committee members visited South Lakes Safari Zoo yesterday morning to view improvements made since Cumbria Zoo Company took over its operation in January.
At a meeting held at Barrow Town Hall, they heard written evidence from former zoo employee James Potter, while a representative from the Captive Animal Protection Society also urged councillors to reject the licence application.
But Cumbria Zoo directors attempted to allay fears for the welfare of animals with the introduction of the firm's new curator; Austrian zoo consultant and world renowned expert, Andreas Kaufmann.
Mr Kaufmann confirmed he had been offered a job at the Dalton zoo last year but had turned it down because he did not want to work under the leadership of its founder, David Gill.
He said: "The main difference now is that there are professionals in place who cooperate with each other and know the value of expert veterinary advice.
"Now, there is nobody ignorant or non-educated about these decisions."
A report by government zoo inspectors following a visit to the site in January raised serious concerns about conditions for animals at the zoo.
An audit of post mortems carried out over the past four years also revealed that almost 400 had died - of causes including emaciation, exposure and poor animal husbandry.
A fresh zoo inspection carried out in March found significant improvements had been secured under the running of Cumbria Zoo Company. The inspection team said the new firm met all requirements necessary for a licence to be granted.
Documents supplied to the meeting reveal Cumbria Zoo Company is now set to enter into an eight-year lease to take legal control of the attraction.
A full buy-out option also exists subject to the directors securing finance.
Adam Steel, a director of Cumbria Zoo Company, said the team were now focused on continuing to improve the site and rebuilding public trust.
He said: "This is our chance to prove ourselves and to rebuild visitor confidence."