ANIMAL charity the RSPCA has confirmed a search warrant has been executed at South Lakes Zoo in Dalton amid allegations of animal cruelty.

The RSPCA said its officers, in assistance with Barrow Borough Council, are investigating historic offences of animal cruelty and neglect relating to the Dalton animal park.

A search warrant was executed at the zoo on Thursday, April 6.

It is not yet known if the investigation relates to the death of animals as detailed in an inspection report published after a visit in January which revealed almost 500 exhibits had died at the zoo in less than four years.

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

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: "The RSPCA is investigating historic offences at South Lakes Zoo, with assistance from Barrow Borough Council.

"A warrant was executed at the zoo on Thursday 6 April.

"We cannot say any more at this time as this is now an active investigation."

South Lakes Safari Zoo is currently operating without a licence after the permit, issued to its founder David Gill, was withdrawn by borough councillors at a crunch meeting in March. They went on to issue a closure order.

Mr Gill, a self-styled animal conservationist, moved to appeal the committee's decision last week, though his legal representative insists his client is no longer interested in running the attraction and his appeal was to allow a newly-formed Cumbria Zoo Company to apply for a licence in May.