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New era for troubled Cumbrian zoo

Baby Giraffe born March 17
Baby Giraffe born March 17

[T]HE new management team at Safari Zoo were handed their licence to operate by Barrow Borough Council today (Thursday, May 11).

The move followed immediately on the founder of the zoo today handed in his zoo licence, clearing the way for the new management team to take over.

This means that the two main conditions of the licensers, Barrow Borough Council, had already been met within two days of it agreeing a new licence for Cumbria Zoo Company Limited.

The other was a new animal director to join the board, and Austrian Andreas Kauffman agreed to take the position on May 2.

“It is a great relief and we can now start to rebuild the reputation of the zoo and the trust of its customers,” said Chief Executive Officer Karen Brewer.

“Cumbria Zoo Company has complete financial and operational control of the zoo and what we deliver.

“It has been a long haul. We took over 17 weeks and 6 days ago, but the process started a long time before that, setting up the company, choosing the directors, and making sure the finances were in place.

“We are really pleased that Barrow council licensing committee agreed to grant us a licence. The new management team is determined to turn the zoo into what it should be, with the help of a passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable staff.

“We feel liberated as a team, and everyone is smiling that we can now make our own decisions and develop the zoo.

“It is no longer about one person. We are a team, with world-famous veterinary consultants, and now we have a world-renowned animal director.”

Mr Kauffman is moving to a village in south Cumbria in the middle of June to take up his position.

He owns GoWild KG Zoo and Wildlife Consulting Services in his native Austria and has held dozens of influential positions in the European zoo movement.

Cumbria Zoo Company Limited remains a tenant of the founder David Gill but is exploring the best way to enact a buy-out clause in the contract.

South Lakes Safari Zoo, in Dalton, South Cumbria, has been at the centre of controversy since a keeper Sarah McClay died after being mauled by a tiger in 2013.

Her mother, Fiona, attended the hearing at Barrow Town Hall on Tuesday (May 9).

She said: “I am pleased for the zoo. The council will keep a keen eye that Mr Gill will have nothing to do with the zoo.

“The evidence of all the experts was that the zoo that it will be not just one person making all the decisions. That will help it move forward.”

Licensing committee chairman, Tony Callister, said they would grant the new licence to Cumbria Zoo Company Limited if Mr Gill withdrew his appeal against a refusal to grant him a licence or surrendered his licence.

Members of Barrow Borough Council’s licensing regulatory committee heard that Mr Gill, who was twice refused the renewal of his zoo licence, had stepped away from all trading and management activities connected with the zoo.

The zoo, which employs up to 100 staff and houses up to 1,500 animals, has remained open during the appeal process. He said he appealed to make sure the zoo could stay open pending the granting of a licence to CZCL.

In January Mr Gill handed over the running of the zoo to the new company, CZCL. They have undergone three inspections since January.

The inspection team Zoo consultant was quoted as saying: “It is as if the blinds have been lifted up, and sunlight is now pouring into the room.”

“At the March inspection, the whole inspection team were unanimous in considering that a new licence could be issued to CZCL based on the standards presented on that day,” concluded the inspection report.

The new team is Karen Brewer, Chairman Stuart Lambert, finance director Jayne Birkett, head of maintenance Adam Steel, head keeper Kim Banks, senior keepers Kathy Black and Yaz Walker, and health and safety administrator Anna Gillard, and now animal director Andreas Kauffman.

The zoo, then known as South Lakes Wildlife Park, was set up by Mr Gill in May 1994, expecting just 10,000 visitors a year, but it has in the past attracted 300,000 visitors a year, making it one of the most popular attractions in the Lake District, and has several times won Cumbria Tourism’s attraction of the year.

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