by Ben O’Rourke
“I’d rather starve than watch these die,” Tracy Tweedy tells me inside the Snake House, one of the exhibits at Borth Wild Animal Kingdom. She calls herself an animal-lover, and now she is facing her worst nightmare.
A lack of funds, a debt to HMRC, escaped animals, at least one animal accidentally killed, a campaign to close the zoo after a lynx was shot, compounded by the Welsh government’s strict lockdown, have put zoo owners Tracy and her husband Dean in a difficult spot.
They claim the zoo has been ticking over thanks to donations, but time is running out. Soon they will not be able to afford to stay open. That’s bad news for the animals.
“The ones we couldn’t re-home we would have to euthanise – that’s not something we’d take lightly,” she says. “It would be a case of bringing the vet in.”
The lockdown is just the latest turn in a downward spiral since the couple bought the zoo a few years ago.
Unfortunately, it always seems to be somebody else’s fault. Not long after opening the zoo, Tracy hired a crisis manager who turned out to be a problem.
“He appeared to be helping us and did loads of stuff for us, but there was always a twist to what he was doing,” she says. “He turned out to be a big scam artist who ran up loads of debts on our account and a lot of animals died mysteriously while he was here.”
Tracy says he was secretly trying to sell the animals and when he was found out, he disappeared.
Things got worse in 2017, when a lynx escaped and was roaming around the west Wales coastal area for 10 days before the council hired a marksman to shoot it. Tracy claims the council wanted the lynx dead from the start. The council denies this.
Another lynx died in an accident and the bad press prompted a petition online to shut down the zoo. The controversy forced the council temporarily to close the zoo.
The financial woes continued and in February 2020, Tracy and Dean were in court for not paying a £75,000 tax bill. While the Tweedys could claim tax relief, it’s not guaranteed and the long-term prospects don’t look good.
The UK government has set aside £14 million to help zoos in England. No such fund is available for zoos in Wales. And even if it was, would it save Borth Wild Animal Kingdom in the long run?
So how did the Tweedys get a licence to own a zoo? DEFRA says it is easy.
In response to a question from Fieldsports News, DEFRA says: ‘You do not need a particular qualification in order to apply for a zoo licence. However, the licence holder may be a different entity from the person responsible for managing the zoo (the zoo operator). The Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice (2012) require that the person responsible for the operation of the zoo hires staff who are sufficiently competent and experienced in order to ensure compliance with the Standards at all times. All animal staff must be competent for their individual responsibilities and given the opportunity to undergo formal training to achieve appropriate qualifications (s10.4).’
What financial proof is needed to show they can afford to take care of the animals?
DEFRA answers: ‘In order to apply for a licence, applicants need to demonstrate that the new zoo can meet the section 1A conservation measures in the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. The conservation measures cover a range of areas that zoos must address including animal welfare, veterinary care and escapes.
Under the Act, the local authority has the power to refuse a licence if they are satisfied that:
· the establishment of the zoo would injuriously affect the health and safety of people living in the neighbourhood;
· the establishment of the zoo would seriously affect the preservation of law and order;
· the zoo cannot implement the conservation measures in section 1A in a satisfactory manner;
· the standards of accommodation, staffing or management are not adequate for the proper care and wellbeing of the animals or for the proper conduct of the zoo;
· the zoo does not have the correct planning permissions.
‘It is up to the discretion of local authorities to determine what financial proof is required as part of licence applications,’ concludes DEFRA.
The legislation may be light but the responsibility is huge. As the Tweedys are finding out, when it comes to looking after animals, is saying you care enough?
“We came here to make a difference and that’s what we want to do,” says Tracy. “We’ve had tough times before and managed to succeed because we’re stubborn and determined.”
Visit Borth Zoo’s website at BorthZoo.co.uk