INSPECTORS have praised the work of new managers at the helm of Dalton zoo following a crucial visit last month.

The latest inspection report on standards at South Lakes Safari Zoo states the Home Office appointed experts were 'impressed and highly encouraged by the improvements made' following the take over of the site by Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd in January.

The team of vets, who visited in March, noted a 'palpable change of culture and attitude of staff, their level of engagement, dedication and enthusiasm, and ambitious plans to move forward now that the owner/previous director is no longer involved', the report adds.

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The improvements, led by Cumbria Zoo chief executive Karen Brewer, follow widespread controversy over the publication of an animal death list which revealed nearly 500 exhibits had died at the zoo in less than four years.

The causes of their deaths included emaciation, exposure and poor animal husbandry.

It sparked a petition calling for the closure of the zoo signed by more than 200,000 people as well as from animal welfare groups including The Born Free Foundation and the Captive Animal Protection Society.

The new inspection report, which is now in the hands of Barrow Borough Council, will be assessed by members of its licensing regulatory committee in the coming weeks - the people who have the power to decide whether to grant Cumbria Zoo Company a licence of its own.

It is understood the committee will vote on the move at a meeting next month.

South Lakes Safari Zoo is currently operating without a licence after the permit, issued to its founder David Gill, was withdrawn by borough councillors in March.

They went on to issue a closure order for the premises.

Mr Gill, a self-styled animal conservationist, moved to formally appeal the committee's decision last week, though his legal representative insists his client is no longer interested in running the attraction.

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