by Ben O’Rourke
This is the story of the British relationship with pets and livestock. In June 2020, Fieldsports News visited Borth Wild Animal Kingdom in Wales. At the time, mounting debts, the escape of a lynx that had to be shot, and the government’s economically punishing lockdowns saw its owners threaten to kill their animals rather than close and give them away. It’s still here, without its official zoo licence, and now more of a petting zoo than a place to see lions and tigers.
Owner Tracy Tweedy was at her wit’s end and said she would rather starve than see the animals suffer. But the inevitable happened, with a court winding up the business at an insolvency hearing in London in February 2021. Her commitment to her animals hasn’t changed and she’s reinventing the attraction, albeit downsized.
“Because the licence wasn’t in the business name and they knew we were going bankrupt, [the council] put it in the business name so that in February, when we went bankrupt (wound up) it meant we lost our zoo licence,” says Tracy Tweedy. “They could have transferred it, but they didn’t want to. So it meant we’d have to reapply for a brand new licence with the inspections and everything that go with it. It costs about £5,000 and in the middle of covid…it was more of a case of, I’m not wasting my money on paperwork when the animals, at that point in time, needed every penny that we had…it was really bad time.”
Once home to meerkats, lions, lynx and exotic reptiles, visitors now see exhibits housing guinea pigs, ducks and budgies. However, they’re still coming and on a hot weekend in August, the place is busy and Tracy optimistic about the future park’s future.
“Without a zoo licence…we can only open six times a year to display our exotic animals. The rest of the time, we can only display domestic animals, which is farm animals and pets basically, but they’re not necessarily things that people like…I mean, we’ve got a duck that is an exotic duck that is actually just a little brown duck, but anyway…she has to be off display because she’s not a domestic duck.”
The exotics are kept away from the main centre in part of the zoo that used to house the lions. They’re now in Port Lympne, which has had its fair share of controversies over the past couple of years.
“It’s quite difficult because obviously, we had to make choices about what animals we kept,” says Tracy. “We kept the older animals – the animals that have been here the longest – because obviously, you know, moving them, it’s not fair.”
One of the main licensing issues Tracy is facing is that she doesn’t have a firearms team, despite her efforts to form one.
“The council took us to court to remove our category one animals on the grounds that we didn’t have the correct firearms provision in place. We’ve tried to get the firearms team in place but the [Welsh] firearms police have been very, very slow in issuing licences.
“My licence I applied for literally when we moved in here which was five years ago now, and it was over two years later, three years later that they still hadn’t given me an answer and eventually turned around and said, no, even though I’ve done all the training for all that time.
“On the secretary of state’s standards, which is for England, it says that you have to have a firearms provision for all category one animals. So that means the monkeys, the snake that we had, which is kind of ridiculous – you wouldn’t shoot a snake – but obviously the council was using that although at the same time saying we needed to follow the Welsh standards now and in the Welsh standards it says we only need firearms provisions for category one felines. So it actually meant just like the lynx and the lions.
“[We] argued it in court and obviously we won…because they wanted us to give up the monkeys and everything else as well and it was only the lions that had to go. We kind of weren’t happy, but you know, it was what it was. So we moved them to Port Lympne but then obviously we went into bankruptcy, so the council were very quick to then make us move the monkeys…and most of the primates went to Monkey World, which is great, cause it’s a really nice facility.”
Even applying for firearms licences became a problem, according to Tracy.
“Interestingly…I think in total or something like eight applications. Now of all the applications we put in, no female application went through at all. Even when the last group of applications, there was three men and two women – five applications – and they all did exactly the same training. The three men got issued their licences, the two girls didn’t… Which I think speaks volumes. But the only way you could argue it is to go to high court, which obviously costs a lot of money.”
So that’s not going to happen. The zoo though, could be opening again in a year or two, Tracy hopes.
”Our long-term plan is… I’m hoping next summer we will be able to look at reapplying. Obviously there’s still quite a lot of work to do and then we can get things like the lemurs back – they’re on loan to another collection and we can get them back as soon as we’re licenced to happen. So there’s quite a few animals that we hope we can get back and we’ll replace.”