SCANDALOUS failings at a Cumbrian zoo - which saw hundreds of animals die of starvation and neglect - are to form the basis of a government report aimed at preventing such a tragedy from ever happening again in the UK.

The Zoos Expert Committee is in the process of considering the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 500 animals at South Lakes Safari Zoo, near Dalton, over the course of just four years.

The committee, which provides advice to the government, has been tasked with identifying lessons that can be learnt from the case so that changes to the way zoos are licensed in the future can be implemented nationally.

Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, who has campaigned for changes to the laws which govern how animals are kept in zoos, is set to meet environment secretary, Michael Gove, to discuss the issue once the report is complete.

Mr Woodcock has called for anyone who applies for a zoo licence to first pass a fit and proper persons test in a bid to ensure the highest standards of safety for animals, staff and the public.

He said: "Since the awful events at South Lakes Safari Zoo, I have been campaigning to reform the current zoo licensing system which has clearly been shown to be not fit for purpose.

"We need a fit and proper persons test so that those involved in running a failed zoo can be barred from obtaining a new licence and a more professional regulatory system that mirrors the high standards seen in other areas where health and welfare are at risk.

"It is a huge boost to the campaign that the government is looking seriously at this and I look forward to making the case to the secretary of state when I meet with him to discuss my proposals."

In February, a controversial autopsy list emerged charting the official cause of death for hundreds of exhibits kept at South Lakes Safari Zoo.

It revealed hundreds of animals had died of hypothermia, emaciation and infighting due to overstocked pens.

The report also detailed how a litter of lion cubs had been euthanised due to overbreeding, vets had been forced to shoot a giraffe after it fell on a slippy floor, two snow leopards were discovered dead and partially eaten in their enclosure and a three-year-old white rhino was crushed against a barrier.

Veterinary experts and state-appointed zoo inspectors laid the blame for the catalogue of animal welfare breaches at the door of the attraction's founder and licence holder,
David Gill.

Mr Gill was subsequently refused a zoo licence by Barrow Borough Council.

The authority went on to award a fresh licence to Cumbria Zoo Company, which is now responsible for running the site.

In a letter to Mr Woodcock, Mr Gove described the case of South Lakes Safari Zoo as "appalling".

He said: "The Zoos Expert Committee is currently considering the lessons that can be learnt from the South Lakes Safari Zoo case in relation to the zoo licensing system.

"We have tasked them with reviewing the case and providing the government with clear, evidence-based advice on the lessons learnt in relation to the zoo licensing system.

"We will consider this advice carefully when we receive it in due course."


Who runs South Lakes Safari Zoo now?

Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd is in charge of South Lakes Safari Zoo.

The company was set up in January with former South Lakes Safari Zoo chief executive, Karen Brewer, at its helm.

CZC Ltd was awarded its own licence to run the zoo in May.


Who owns the site at Dalton?

The 50-acre site, near Dalton, is owned by David Gill.


How are zoos licensed?

Zoos are licensed by the local authority.

Zoos must first be inspected by government-appointed experts who make a recommendation on whether they believe a site is good enough to have a licence to operate.

The final decision, however, rests with members of the local authority's licensing committee.