Alarm over Dublin Zoo conditions as inspection records medicines with no expiry dates and animals from social species housed alone

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Officials from the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) raised a series of concerns regarding animal welfare at Dublin Zoo following their most recent inspection, newly obtained documents have revealed.

he popular attraction is currently the subject of an investigation into serious allegations of animal mistreatment, which were made by a whistleblower in a protected disclosure earlier this year.

However, records released under Freedom of Information show that departmental inspectors raised their own concerns about the welfare of certain animals as early as last October.

In their report, they said the water trough of an endangered species – the zoo’s four African painted dogs – was “unclean” and “in a state of disrepair”. They also found that ventilation in the animals’ enclosure was inadequate, and the absence of any drainage was “causing issues” with cleaning.

The inspectors discovered that there were no “broach dates” on medicine bottles, meaning that it could not be established whether drugs for the animals had expired or remained safe to administer.

They expressed concern that a number of animals belonging to “social species”, including a hippo, a rhinoceros and a bongo, had been separated into smaller groups or were being housed alone.

There were also some “compromises” in the way that enclosures were managed to avoid interaction problems.

The report stated that kitchen hygiene needed to be reviewed across the site, and additional staff training was required in areas including “standard kitchen cleaning, disinfection and hygiene principles”.

Inspectors were dissatisfied that no temperature records had been maintained for the zoo’s two endangered sulcata tortoises, and there was no way of preventing heat from escaping through an open hatch in their enclosure.

A “sharp sheet of metal” had also come away from the wall in the same area.

Issues were also identified with record-keeping, and the zoo was advised to maintain further written details of vaccination schedules, faecal screening, and other information relating to animal welfare.

Significantly, the inspectors recommended that a less senior member of the zookeeping team attends ethics meetings in future, so that junior staff can raise issues that they want to be reviewed by the ethics committee.

They also said any elective euthanasia – when an animal not under active veterinary care is being put down – should be first considered and approved by the Ethical Review Committee in future.

The zoo did not provide any information on the circumstances or events that prompted the departmental inspectors to make these recommendations.

“Dublin Zoo has an exemplary track record in relation to licensing inspections,” said a spokesman. “The overwhelming majority of each inspection is hugely positive, and [the zoo] is routinely acknowledged and heralded both nationally and internationally for our independently audited, first-class animal welfare and care programmes.”

He said all of the conditions attached to the renewal of the zoo’s license by inspectors were fully discharged – most of them within 28 days following receipt of the report.

However, People Before Profit/Solidarity TD Paul Murphy described the issues outlined in the report as “a cause for alarm”.

“Combined with the allegations in the protected disclosure, it raises serious concerns about animal welfare at the zoo,” he said. “It underlines the need for the protected disclosure to be properly and independently investigated.”

Mr Murphy said it was “entirely inappropriate” for NPWS officials who routinely inspect the zoo to be charged with investigating the allegations of animal mistreatment contained in the whistleblower’s disclosure.

“Accepting the complaints made in the protected disclosure would mean making a finding against their previous judgment. Clearly, a genuine independent investigation is necessary involving fresh eyes on the allegations.”