David Gill is the founder of South Lakes Zoo in Dalton, Cumbria, UK. He’s alleged to have instructed his veterinarian to kill a Sumatran tiger out of vengeance because the tiger had killed one of his zookeepers, 24-year-old Sarah McClay, who had entered a cage with the tiger. She was mauled and suffered deep puncture wounds to her body.
This information comes from the Daily Telegraph online newspaper which is a reliable source. The paper states that the zoo’s vet was instructed to kill the tiger by the zoo’s founder David Gill. The official reason given was because the tiger was elderly and had to be put down. That appears to have been a cover-up. Although in a Facebook post that Mr Gill made after the event he says that he discussed all the options and agreed with specialist advice. His argument was that in the wild male tigers are not capable of surviving beyond 10 years of age. On that basis he assumed that the tiger would be prone to health complications and therefore he was put down. This is a very poor argument.
The most renowned book on the wild cat species, Wildcats of the World, states that captive tigers have lived as long as 26 years, and 20 years is not uncommon. Indeed, a female tiger gave birth to a single cub when she was 17 years of age. This happened at the Rotterdam Zoo. The book says that the lifespan in the wild is shorter and that a female tiger is doing well if she reaches 14 or 15.
Clearly, the information from this book contradicts the information given by David Gill and the reasons for killing the Sumatran tiger.
It is noteworthy to state that the family of the woman killed requested that the tiger was not to be euthanised. They made this request for the obvious reason that the Sumatran tiger was innocent of any wrongdoing. The zoo was fined £450,000 having admitted to health and safety failings.
It seems to me that David Gill is unsuited to running a zoo. He was therefore unsuited to creating it. This is borne out by the fact that in the newspapers today there are stories that his zoo may well be shut down after nearly 500 animals died in less than four years.
It is alleged that the animals died due to poor management. There is a distressing catalogue of disasters concerning illness and injuries across a wide range of species at the zoo between December 2013 and September of last year.
The mismanagement is said to be in the worst that the Captive Animal Protection Society has seen 60 years.
There are numerous examples it seems of animals dying for no good reason. There is the example of sudden death of two snow leopards in October 2015. They were discovered partially eaten in their enclosure. No post-mortem was undertaken. There may have been poisoned.
Seven healthy lion cubs were euthanised when just four days old in August 2017 because the zoo did not have sufficient room for them.
Alicia, another Sumatran tiger, was founded dead in her enclosure in November 2013. A member of the public had reported seeing her choking. She had choked to death on a piece of meat which was too large to be swallowed.
Apparently a Jaguar name Saka was euthanised after the cat had chewed off its own paw overnight on 27 December 2016.
There are numerous other instances of mismanagement. Zoo inspectors have compiled a report on the failings at the zoo. They state:
“The way these animals have been housed, treated and looked after is typical of the poor levels of management that the inspection team found when the zoo was under South Lakes Safari Zoo management and can without any doubt lay the entire blame at his (David Gills’s) door …. “The conditions that these animals are being maintained in is, quite frankly, appalling and shocking and has led directly to the death of a number of them. It falls far below the standards required and is indicative of the lack of suitability for DG (David Gill) to hold a zoo licence.”
Mr Gill may well be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It should be noted that Mr Gill handed the responsibility of managing the zoo over to Cumbria Zoo Co Ltd at the end of last year as I understand it. However, he remains the licence holder.
The entire zoo site has been leased to Cumbria Zoo Co Ltd under a six-month lease. We all hope that the management of this sooner improved dramatically. Mr Gill has stepped away from trading and management activities.