BOSSES at South Lakes Safari Zoo have been ordered to take action because animals are in danger of dying this winter.

Councillors ordered prompt moves be undertaken after being told of serious concerns about the heating, drainage and bedding facilities in the Africa House, which was said to have been designed by owner David Gill.

Issues were raised in August about the welfare of rhinos and giraffes living in the exhibit at the Dalton tourist attraction.

However, an inspection last Thursday revealed that little or no changes had been made, despite assurances from Mr Gill.

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Dr Matthew Brash, who carried out the inspection, told Barrow Borough Council's licensing regulatory committee meeting yesterday: "If you do not put a condition on these animals they will suffer markedly. Over the summer they have been alright but it was minus three outside this morning so we need to get a condition on there to get heating in as soon as possible. These animals lives are at risk over winter."

Dr Jonathan Cracknell, who is assisting the zoo as a consultant, said: "It's a nice building but it's badly constructed, badly conceived and is not as useful as it could be. You have to question the project manager in charge of that.

"Our biggest effort to bring the zoo in line is to understand that current standards are unacceptable by good practice, let alone the best practice, and Africa House is an example of that."

Mr Gill's licence will expire in January next year but he has formally indicated that he will apply for fresh permission to run the zoo.

However, Councillor Tony Callister, who chaired yesterday's meeting, said he had been assured by zoo representative Karen Brewer in previous meetings that Mr Gill would not be involved in making management decisions - something she yesterday denied saying.

He said: "I am appalled at what I am reading and I am very upset at what I am reading with regards to the welfare of animals at the zoo. It's more like running a circus than an actual zoo."

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Miss Brewer added: "David Gill is the owner and licence holder and he is very opinionated as to how animals should be and what their needs are and at the moment his decision is overriding. As long as he is the licence holder he makes ultimate decisions."

After listening to the concerns raised, the committee added a condition to the zoo's licence ensuring that a written action plan be produced within one week demonstrating how Africa House would be heated, how bedding would be provided and how welfare needs of the animals would be met.

This plan must then be implemented and the temperature of the house monitored constantly within the next four weeks.