animals' secret suffering in cramped cages
have cracked down on flaws at the famous wildlife park after they found
animals were being kept in overcrowded enclosures
Safari Park, which claims its animals enjoy living in a “natural environment”,
has been keeping many of them for long periods in overcrowded, unsafe or
dangerous enclosures which left some half-blind and in pain.
park, which is owned by the Duke of Bedford, and attracts almost 500,000
visitors a year, trades on the way the lions and tigers are allowed to roam
freely across spacious enclosures covering more than 40 acres. When the
public are not looking, however, it has been packing them into cramped cages
for up to 18 hours a day.
harsh reality of the treatment suffered by the animals has emerged in a
report by government inspectors. It raises serious questions about the attraction,
opened 40 years ago, as one of the first drive-through safari parks outside
inspectors also found:
lions were kept in harmful chlorinated water until late last year,
despite an internal report warning that the chemical was causing ulcers
their eyes and leaving them unable to see. One creature, temporarily
blinded by the chlorine, was in such pain that it was biting on the
sides of the pool.
One keeper told bosses she was “ashamed” to work there and
that if the
public knew how the sea lions were being treated they would be “unlikely”
to want to view their performances.
The bull elephant was being housed in an unsafe enclosure from which
had recently escaped and posed an immediate danger to the lives of
visitors and keepers.
Exotic large turtles were being kept in inadequate “temporary”
Redmond, of the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, called the revelations
“probably the most shocking evidence I have ever seen in a UK zoo”.
He questioned how previous zoo inspectors had missed the problems and called
for a full inquiry.
say to me ‘surely safari parks are different because they offer more
space than zoos’, but this now raises questions over how safari parks
really operate,” he said.
after the last visitor’s car has left the 32-acre lion enclosure each
day, Woburn staff use Land Rovers to herd the big cats along the fence towards
a row of 10 shoddy breeze-block pens on one side of the enclosure, each
measuring approximately 10ft square.
inside the pens, metal-mesh gates are padlocked, shutting them in —
and there they stay until ready to be brought out again for public display.
In winter, when the park is open for only a few hours each day, this means
the big cats are kept cooped up for about 18 hours a day.
week a Sunday Times reporter watched the lions being put back into their
pens at 5.20pm, even though there were several hours of daylight remaining.
Many other zoos, such as nearby Whipsnade, allow their big cats to have
free movement between their indoor and outdoor enclosures 24 hours a day.
The disclosures came after Central Bedfordshire council, alerted by an informant
earlier this year, sent inspectors from the Department for Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to Woburn where they made a number of alarming
lions’ and tigers’ enclosures are not equipped with electric
fences, and to stop the animals escaping they are simply locked within the
small pens once the visitors have
the day, while the lions are allowed to roam, armed patrols keep the enclosure
Defra inspection of the lions’ accommodation, carried out in January,
found the pens were “inadequate in space provision”, as well
as “structurally unsound and unsafe”. They
were “very crowded and there was no provision for individual feeding
or sleeping areas”. There
was also “no visible environmental enrichment”, and during the
winter season the 16 lions were confined, two or three to a pen, for “unreasonable
lengths of time”. An unstable mix of different lion families within
the pride was causing them to fight each other, inflicting injuries.
inspectors noted that a new building was being built to house the lions
overnight in an attempt to remedy the situation, but that this was not completed.
The council said this weekend that the re-homing of three lions to another
zoo had stabilised the pride.
set of pens for the park’s two tigers, which are screened from the
public’s view, are also being assessed by the inspectors. Woburn admitted
this weekend that they were also inadequate and were being replaced.
inspectors also examined the way Woburn was keeping its sea lions. The marine
mammals, which had long been made to perform in a daily display for the
paying public, had been forced to live for years in chlorinated water, which
causes painful eye and skin ailments. The guidance for zoos keeping such
animals is to fill their pools with salinated water, in order to replicate
the animals’ natural environment.
to an internal report by Woburn’s own staff, the long-term effects
of the chemical on the sea lions had been little short of devastating.
am ashamed to be part of the team that keeps them under these conditions
and wonder if we would be in breach of the welfare act. We do actually know
that their health and wellbeing is being compromised, yet we are not doing
anything about it,” wrote Katie Rice, the park’s deputy team
leader in an email to Celia Deeley, the operations director, in April 2009.
email Rice took issue with a decision on the sea lions being delayed until
“the season was over”, saying she was “struggling to be
patient when I see these animals suffer on a daily basis”. She
added: “Today Spratt, one of our sea lions, is bumping into the sides
of the pool as her eyes are so tightly shut; she has also been biting on
the wood sides in pain after having some of her ulcerations scraped away
yesterday to try to get them to heal.”
report, written in April 2009 and commissioned by Woburn, Rice stated: “Due
to welfare reasons the current filtration system at the sea lion pool should
be changed immediately ... While their lifespan may remain unaffected ...
this does not mean that their quality of life has not been significantly
compromised.” It was called Proposal for the Introduction of a Non-Chemical
Water Treatment System at the Current Sea Lion Outdoor Pool.
said of Woburn’s sea lion shows: “If the public were aware that
the animals were being kept in chemically treated water that caused chronic
painful eye and skin conditions it is unlikely that they would want to participate
in such demonstrations.” She concluded that if changing the filtration
system was “not an option for financial reasons” then the sea
lions should be moved somewhere that can “better care for them”.
very likely chlorine plays a significant role in causing health problems,
like skin and eye problems
produced by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria state that sea
lions “require either natural or artificial sea water” and it
“strongly recommends” the use of biological filtration instead
of chlorine. They
add: “It is very likely chlorine plays a significant role in causing
health problems, like skin and eye problems.”
weekend Woburn said it had acted on the internal report “immediately”,
by supplying the sea lions with supplementary sea water pools, although
the sea lions were only removed from the chlorinated system in October last
year, six months after Rice’s report.
Potter, the chief executive of Woburn Enterprises, stressed that the sea
lions had been given a clean bill of health by inspectors who returned to
the park this month.
hopes to move the sea lions, which are no longer on public display, to another
zoo with a sea water pool this summer.
Defra inspectors also found problems with the enclosure of Raja, Woburn’s
3Å ton bull Asian elephant — a type of animal considered notoriously
unpredictable. Last November Raja managed to escape his supposedly state-of-the-art
£1.6m enclosure, which had been opened only in 2008. When
the council was alerted to the allegations about the park in January this
year, they looked closely at Raja’s pen and inspected a diary of the
Woburn was issued with a prohibition notice by the council stating that
“the elephant fences are inadequate to effectively contain within
his enclosure Raja the bull elephant, having considered his size, weight,
strength and temperament and specialists’ reports received from structural
engineers and Defra- approved vets.
is a real and present likelihood of escape from the appointed enclosure
which could result in contact with persons visiting or working at the premises,
the likely outcome of such contact is serious injury or threat to life.”
immediately agreed that a keeper should supervise Raja while he was in his
outside paddock at all times. This, together with ongoing structural works,
satisfied the council that the notice was being complied with, and this
weekend it declared the control measures to be adequate pending a more permanent
said Woburn was appealing against the council’s prohibition notice
because Raja was “one of the best trained and most calm and manageable
bull elephants in Europe”. He said Raja was not a danger to the public.
He said the lion
and tiger houses were “products of their times” and accepted
they were “now recognised as not meeting Woburn’s commitment
to delivering excellence in welfare”.
new tiger house is expected to be completed next spring and the lion house
this summer. He denied that the public were being misled, however, saying
“Woburn’s animal houses are clearly evident in the visitors’
journey and we believe visitors realise the large houses are homes for the
animals that live around them”. He
added that Woburn Safari Park had spent £4m on animal welfare over
the past five years: “Woburn is committed to animal welfare and best
for the council, which carried out a further inspection earlier this month,
said a number of matters were still under consideration.
electric shocks elephant 27/6/10 read