Almost 500 animals, including tigers, lion cubs and giraffes, have died at a Cumbrian zoo in less than four years, a new report shows.

Poor management, emaciation and hypothermia are among the reasons for the above-average mortality rate at South Lakes Safari Zoo at Dalton-in-Furness.

Trauma and infighting caused by overstocked pens also accounted for the demise of scores of animals.

The distressing catalogue of injuries and illnesses endured by a wide range of species at the site between December 2013 and September last year has been branded the worst seen in 60 years by national campaigning charity the Captive Animal Protection Society.

The report forms part of a bundle of documents disclosed to Barrow Borough Council which will be assessed ahead of a decision on whether to approve either of two separate applications for a zoo licence at a crunch meeting for the business on March 6.

Maddie Taylor, Caps campaigns officer, said: "The findings at South Lakes Safari Zoo are some of the worst we have ever come across in 60 years.

"Our visit to the zoo combined with the zoo inspectors' reports shows high death rates of animals, animals in ill health and a lack of understanding about how to meet even the most basic needs of the animals under their care.

"We urge the local authority to take action by closing this appalling zoo down."

In one case, an African spurred tortoise named Goliath was electrocuted when it became stuck in charged fencing. In another, the decomposed body of a squirrel monkey was discovered behind a radiator, making a post mortem impossible to carry out.

The zoo, which is said to attract around 250,000 visitors every year and was known as South Lakes Wild Animal Park, lost two giraffes in the space of nine months with the first, a 13-day-old bull, dying of a gastrointestinal infection thought to be E coli in October 2015.

A second, an eight-year-old male, was shot in July last year after it collapsed and attempts to get it to re-stand failed.

A vet who carried out a post mortem later raised concerns over the nutrition of the giraffe herd as its bodily condition was found to be similar to others that had been unwell or died.

Other cases include

  • the mysterious sudden deaths of two snow leopards, Miska and Natasja, in October 2015 after they were discovered partially eaten in their enclosure. A vet initially suspected they may have been poisoned but blood tests ruled this out. No post mortem was undertaken
  • Indiana, a three-year-old white rhino, which died after being crushed against a barrier by another rhino.

Some animals were killed as a form of population control. Seven healthy lion cubs were euthanised at four days old in August last year because the zoo had no room for them.

That followed the culling of five baboons in 2014 after their number grew too large.

And 18 sacred ibis birds were shot by founder David Gill after he was threatened with prosecution for allowing the non-native species to fly free from the zoo, a move heavily criticised by avian experts during a subsequent court case.

Other papers show that just two months ago, a jaguar named Saka was euthanised after it chewed off its own paw overnight on December 27.

The keepers claimed it had sustained a bite beforehand but a report by external experts states other jaguars kept on site have suffered cut or damaged pads in the past from broken glass in rubble in the enclosure, loose wires in the jaguar house and large nails on the feeding poles.

Padang A tiger responsible for the death of a keeper in 2013 was euthanised on the orders of zoo founder David Gill last year, documents show.

Padang, a 14-year-old Sumatran tiger, was "culled" on March 22 last year - three years after its fatal attack on 24-year-old staff member Sarah McClay.

It was one of three tiger deaths recorded at the attraction in the last four years.

Papers show a vet was instructed to kill the big cat by Mr Gill with "no notes as to reason".

The record is at odds with the reason for Padang's departure last year when Mr Gill said the decision to put the animal to sleep had been taken on the advice of veterinary experts.

Padang was found to have gained access to a feeding area where keeper Miss McClay was working before attacking her.

The former Dowdales School pupil suffered serious head and neck injuries during the tragic incident and was later pronounced dead in hospital.

The zoo was fined almost £450,000 after admitting to health and safety failings which resulted in the mauling.

The animal death records also show an 18-year-old female Amur tiger died in August 2013 of old age.

Alicia, a Sumatran tiger, was found dead in her enclosure just a few months later, in November 2013, after a member of the public reported seeing her choking.

A post mortem report concluded she had eaten a piece of meat too large to be swallowed, causing a piece to be inhaled into her larynx.

Inspectors have compiled a damning report on failings at a Dalton zoo - as they press for its controversial founder to be prosecuted for causing unnecessary suffering to animals.

A team of externally appointed experts visited South Lakes Safari Zoo last month to check the welfare of its animals and to ensure standards meet UK requirements for zoos.

But they concluded animals kept in areas managed by Mr Gill were beset with "significant problems" that had led directly to the deaths of a number of exhibits.

They highlighted deaths and injuries suffered by animals kept in the Tambopata aviary, tropical house and the old lemur houses as being "appalling and shocking" and contrary to modern welfare standards.

The secretary of state appointed zoo inspectors Professor Anna Meredith, Nick Jackson, MBE and vet Dr Matthew Brash wrote: "The causes of these deaths can be laid either directly or indirectly upon the modus operandi of South Lakes Safari Zoo under the direction of DG (David Gill).

"The way these animals have been housed, treated and looked after is typical of the poor levels of management that the inspection team have found when the zoo was under South Lakes Safari Zoo management and can without any doubt lay the entire blame at his door."

Their conclusion adds: "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."

The inspection team found the areas in question had too many animals for the enclosures available with non-compatible species sharing living space.

In December alone, seven parma wallabies, a Spix's guan and a Lady Amherst's pheasant had all died with one part time keeper - responsible for 170 animals- admitting she had been told to dispose of any further bodies and "not to tell anyone'".

One wallaby kept in the area, which is now off show to the public was found to have injuries to its tail consistent with being bitten by rats while still alive.

The inspectors said they believed Mr Gill showed a "callous disregard" for the welfare of the animals in the area, adding: "Many of the welfare issues noted by the inspection team can clearly be put down to poor management."

They now recommend Mr Gill is refused a continuation of his licence to run a zoo.

They are recommending he is prosecuted under section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act for allowing animals to suffer.

An attempt to renew the site's zoo licence last year was unsuccessful after members of Barrow Borough Council's licensing committee voiced concerns over the attraction's operation.

Two fresh applications have been submitted to the authority which are set to be determined at a meeting on Monday, March 6.