Last summer inspectors revealed that nearly 500 animals had died in a three-year period. Can a new team turn South Lakes Safari around?
It's 2pm at South Lakes Safari zoo. "Free entry!" reads the cheerful banner tacked on to the rustic wooden entrance gate. "Hand feed a baby giraffe!" But these enticements seem to have missed their mark today: I'm the only visitor. The enormous gift shop filled mostly with stuffed animals is empty of humans. The £20 family meal deals at the "Maki" zoo restaurant remain untouched. I trudge up the long, circular path, past sodden vultures hunched behind coiled barbed wire, pacing big cats and many upbeat, brightly coloured signs telling me the names all the animals have been given. The zoo's miniature train is not in operation today, due to a lack of passengers.
Why is no one here? Perhaps because it's a rainy, grey Wednesday in March. More like ly, though, it's the unsettling reports that have been appearing since last June.