Founder of zoo where 500 animals died drops horse ranch plans

David Gill abandons Lake District ranch application after flood of complaints

The founder of a zoo where nearly 500 animals died in less than three years, many in cruel conditions, has abandoned plans to open a horse-riding ranch, following a flood of complaints.

David Gill, the former owner of South Lakes Safari zoo in Cumbria, angered animal welfare groups when he applied to open an American-style ranch in the hills of the Lake District.

The Stetson-wearing farmer was previously refused a licence to continue running South Lakes Safari, where inspectors concluded that scores of animals had died in often cruel conditions between December 2013 and September 2016.

The deaths included two snow leopard cubs discovered partially eaten in their enclosure, and a squirrel monkey whose decomposing body was found behind a radiator. A diagnosis of chlamydia was reported in the zoo’s peacock population.

The inspectors recommended Gill should face prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act for allowing animals to suffer, but he has never faced charges and denies any wrongdoing. The zoo is now in the hands of new owners.

The Guardian revealed last month how Gill had applied to launch a horse-riding ranch under the name David Rivera, using the surname of his wife, a Peruvian former beauty queen.

Earlier this week Gill announced on Facebook that the plans were being shelved “due to unforeseen health circumstances” before later amending the post to suggest it would open later in May.

However, an update to the planning application, dated 4 April, confirmed it had been withdrawn. Its website and Facebook page have also been deleted.

In a statement, Gill said he was the victim of a “sad witch-hunt by the press” and that he had decided to abandon the plans due to the “abuse, threats and general disgusting behaviour of Facebook trolls who wish to maliciously damage our family reputation, income, our quality of operations”.

He added: “The planning and licence would not have been an issue for us as we conformed to all guidance and standards in full and there was no planning issue that would have prevented the operations.”

Madeline Taylor of the charity Freedom for Animals said she was “hugely relieved” that the plans had been abandoned. She added: “Given his shocking track record, we urge councils to refuse any future applications that Gill may make for businesses involving animals.”

The Lake District national park, which had been considering the application, said it had received more than 90 letters of objection, mostly concerning animal welfare, which was outside of its terms of reference.

Several of the objections deemed relevant by the authority complained about an “excessive amount of horse manure and urine” on the picturesque hills of the Lakes.

One resident complained about a recent encounter with Gill’s horses during a family walk in Blengdale Forest. “As we walked back down the forestry road to the car park there was horse shit all the way, not family friendly,” she wrote.


Josh Halliday North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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