Inspectors fear the worst after several meerkats escaped from a children’s attraction and are still missing.
The cute animals are thought to have died after getting out of their enclosure at Croxteth Park Farm in Liverpool.
The escape of the animals is just one in an array of problems found during two inspections by government and council inspectors, the Liverpool Echo reports.
The attraction, which was previously council-run, was taken over by The Neighbourhood Services Company (NSC) in 2014, has a range of common farm animals including cattle, sheep, pigs and goats.
It is a popular attraction for children, and hosts birthday parties as well as having a cafe.
However, a report to the council’s licensing committee ahead of a key meeting next week said the farm acquired meerkats in 2016 and did not immediately inform the council.
The animals, native to Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert, are classed as wild animals and therefore require a specific zoo licence.
The site previously had a dispensation that meant it did not require a zoo licence due to the species it had on site – but this was later revoked.
Council officers recommend its recent application for a licence, spurred by Croxteth Park Farm’s acquisition of two species of conservation-sensitive owls, be refused.
The meerkat escapes occurred before the UK’s first lockdown in March but have only been made public now because of a delay due to the effects of pandemic.
Two visits to the site by Dr Jonathan Cracknell, an experienced zoo inspector and veterinary surgeon, in February and March 2020 found a number of issues.
The first inspection, on February 3, found that some meerkats had escaped and that enclosures to birds of prey at the attraction were not secure.
The report said: “It was found that the electric fence to the meerkat enclosure was not in working order and the enclosure was not maintained and constricted in such a way as to prevent the escape of the meerkats.
“It was found during the inspection that meerkats had escaped from the site and were presumed to be dead or missing. Similarly, it was found that the bird of prey enclosures were not padlocked so as to prevent unauthorised access to the enclosure.”
The same inspection also raised concerns about the conditions for a number of animals within the site.
The report said: “For example, the heat lamp that was required to provide heat to the meerkats was smashed and, as such, the meerkats were not provided with a suitable source of heat.
“This had not been identified by the operator of the farm. Similarly, the birds of prey were not provided with cover while tethered and rabbits were not provided with shelter.”
Fifty two conditions were recommended by the inspector – but another inspection six weeks later on March 16 found that more than half of them remained unmet.
It was also found that at least one more meerkat had escaped between the first and second inspections.
The catalogue of concerns that were documented included inadequate measures to prevent the escape of animals, including the electric fence used to keep in the meerkats functioning at 1% of the required power.
The also found poor maintenance of the buildings in the farm, while there was concern over the measures put in place to prevent disease in animals
The council report said that the array of problems led to the attraction’s dispensation from requiring a zoo licence being revoked in November.
The remaining meerkats were subsequently rehomed.
Croxteth Park Farm’s operator, NSC, has now applied for a new licence – but the officer’s report to committee members said it has failed to comply with legislation surrounding the running of zoos and its application should be refused.
Croxteth Park Farm has been approached for comment.
The council’s licensing committee will discuss the report’s findings and the farm’s application for a zoo licence at a meeting next Monday.