THE team behind a new company that took over Dalton zoo last month has spoken of the "massive" improvements they have already secured as they work towards their goal of transforming the attraction into a conservation showpiece.

Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd was set up in January in a bid to secure the future of the failing site, near Dalton.

The firm, led by chief executive Karen Brewer, took the reins to South Lakes Safari Zoo just days before government inspectors carried out a two-day visit to assess its licence to keep animals held by its founder David Gill.

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The board of directors at CZCL is now seeking to reassure the public that the welfare of the animals in their care is paramount - with many of the concerns addressed in the subsequent inspection report already completed.

South Lakes Safari Zoo was plunged into controversy earlier this week as a harrowing death list of animals that have died or been killed on site prior to September last year was published.

But in an exclusive interview with the Evening Mail, Ms Brewer said Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd had itself commissioned the report as part of a thorough assessment of the site.

She said: "The report was commissioned by Cumbria Zoo with the help of the expert advisers we are now working with.

"I hope people will have some confidence that we instigated that report and have brought in a number of people who are very highly regarded in the zoo world to help us ensure we going in the right direction."

Ms Brewer added: "It's been an upsetting week for the whole team because I know how dedicated they are to the animals and to this zoo.

"Much of the criticism in the report centred on a part of the zoo not managed by us.

"I think visitors will already be able to see dramatic improvements when they visit."

The government inspection team raised serious concerns over the welfare of animals kept in the Tambopata aviary, tropical house and top lemur house following their visit to the site.

Animals in this area were part of a private collection kept by Mr Gill and fenced off from the rest of the zoo.

The inspectors requested around 170 of the exhibits were transferred to the management of Cumbria Zoo Company as soon as possible.

Mr Gill, who controversially claimed to have rewritten the textbook on animal care just weeks before government inspectors declared he was not fit to hold a zoo licence, is said to no longer visit the site.

He has no stake in Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd, though he remains the owner of the land and a number of the animals which are leased to the new team.

The newly-formed firm took on "significant financial liabilities" from South Lakes Safari Zoo at its inception last month.

It now has the option of an eight-year lease with a legally binding option to buy the site from Mr Gill if its own application for a zoo licence is successful.

Ms Brewer said: "I admit I didn't sleep during the week we took over the management of the zoo.

"There has been a lot to do in terms of securing the financial backing of the bank and working towards our inspection.

"We have all worked for David and we get on well with his legal team but both sides are committed to the buy out going ahead as soon as possible."

Among the changes already instigated on site is a monthly visit from an expert zoological vet plus weekly inspections from a separate consultant veterinarian.

Senior staff on site, led by head keeper Kim Banks, deputy head keeper Kathy Black, senior keeper Yasmin Walker and animal manager David Armitage say they now need the continued support of the public to allow them to establish the exacting standards of a modern conservation zoo they have in their sights.

Ms Banks said: "We are all working so hard and are so dedicated to these animals.

"We want the public to continue to support us as we look forward to our own inspection later this month."

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