Move along, move along. There’s nothing to see here! So announces BIAZA after their recent ‘investigation’ into serious complaints reported by a whistle-blower against Blair Drummond Safari Park earlier this year (March 21).
The zoo-accrediting industry body has investigated itself and concluded there are ‘no ongoing serious animal welfare concerns’. Great news! And yet, ‘some procedures and processes at the park need to improve’. Hang on... What are these procedures and processes? Are they linked to animal welfare, public safety, keeper safety and training? How can the public trust the system without knowing what these ‘procedures and processes’ are?
However, while on the one hand declaring there are no serious ongoing animal welfare concerns, BIAZA has imposed ‘sanctions’ on Blair Drummond. Their punishment includes the requirement to: ‘remove the BIAZA sign’ from any placards at the front of the park. The park has also been assigned a mentor for three years. An experienced (as yet unidentified) CEO from ‘within the sector’. They have three years to improve, unless, the mentor is satisfied sufficient progress has been made. What does that mean? If we don’t know what the issues are, how can we, the public, decide whether ‘sufficient’ progress has been made. And is ‘sufficient progress’ enough? Should not any deficient procedures and processes be fully resolved?
Once again, we have more questions than answers in the face of the declaration by zoo industry’s Dr Jo Judge, CEO of BIAZA, that historical incidents are of no concern ”as improvements have already been made to address them”. That will be cold comfort to the dead lions, antelope, lemur and macaque, and other wildlife at the park, that’s for sure. And as for the brave whistle-blower? This will hardly encourage others to speak out when they witness abuse or mismanagement, and casts doubt over ‘robust and comprehensive’ whistle-blower procedures, alongside the whole investigative process.
What are the procedures and processes that need improving? Who is this mentor? What constitutes ‘sufficient progress’? What further sanctions ‘may’ be applied if improvements fail to take place?
We have the right to know. The public has the right to know. Sweeping historical incidents under the carpet and telling everyone to move along is not the kind of accountability we should expect from organisations that rely on the support and funding of the general public, and have to be licensed by law.
Let’s be clear, the worst possible sanction in the eyes of BIAZA, as outlined in their ‘Sanctions Policy’ is for a zoo to lose its BIAZA membership. Regardless of any BIAZA investigation, a facility will still continue to operate as a zoo, no matter the outcome. Only the local licensing authority can implement directions which have a binding influence on a zoo’s licence. It is therefore deeply concerning that responsibility for investigating these historical animal welfare allegations and deaths were deferred to a zoo industry body with no statutory responsibility.
Born Free is renewing our call for the Scottish government to initiate a full, transparent, independent investigation by non-affiliated animal welfare experts into the goings-on at Blair Drummond. And once again we ask the Westminster government to ensure that more robust, transparent and independent measures are put in place nationally to respect the courage of whistle blowers who raise serious concerns. The government must replace the production of reports about the zoo industry, by the zoo industry, for the zoo industry, with transparent, independent and assessments that will help reassure the public that their safety, the safety of zoo staff and the welfare of the animals is truly safeguarded.
Blair Drummond has three years to improve standards. And throughout those three years we will all be watching, closely.
Image © W Woodhouse