Did Glasgow’s zoo feed its unwanted pets to the snakes?

A ZOO agreed to give new homes to unwanted pets and then fed them to its snakes, former members of staff claimed last night.

Youngsters believed their rabbits, gerbils, and other pets they were no longer able to look after would be cared for at Glasgow Zoo’s children’s farm.

But one former worker alleges the animals were kept in a damp, semi-derelict building before being killed and fed whole to pythons.

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The allegations are contained in a dossier drawn up by a former volunteer worker at the 100-year-old zoo which has been passed on to the influential charity group, Advocates for Animals.

Glasgow City Council is already conducting an investigation after complaints about the zoo’s dilapidated state and fears for the physical and mental wellbeing of animals.

The latest allegations have been made by Andrew Condie, who was a full-time voluntary member of staff for two years, and is now studying zoology.

Condie, who quit last year, said it was obvious the zoo had severe financial difficulties but that there was a reluctance to admit its failings.

He said: "I decided to leave because I was too upset at the poor general standard of the place and the overall treatment of the animals."

In his dossier, Condie names a member of staff who he says was among those tasked to kill household pets for feeding to the snakes. He claims that when he expressed concern about the practice to staff keepers he was told not to interfere.

Condie’s claims have been corroborated by another former volunteer worker, who has asked to remain anonymous.

The former worker claimed it was "common practice" for "adopted" pets to be killed and fed to a variety of species.

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She said: "I became so fond of one rabbit that had been handed in that before it could be killed I took it away myself and found it a safe home."

She added: "Rats were also killed to feed the snakes. They were simply held up by the tail and then had their heads dashed against a wall to kill them.

"I got to know the ‘killing days’ when keepers wrung the necks of rabbits. I stayed away from the cabin where it happened. But you knew they were killing rats by the thuds on the wall.

"The next day when you went to the place where the small rescued animals were kept you could see the bloodstains on the walls where the rats had been struck. It was horrible. In a busy week there might have been a couple of rabbits handed in and the next week nothing. But they started to add up."

As well as the killing of former pets, Condie’s dossier contains other disturbing allegations, many of them stemming from lack of resources. He claims that a lioness at the zoo became pregnant to her brother because management could no longer afford anti-hormone injections.

He also alleges that last year three lion cubs were found dead in their enclosure three days after they were born.

Condie says staff were put at risk when inexperienced volunteer workers were told to handle potentially lethal Gabon vipers with litter pickers despite the zoo having no anti-venom serum. And reptiles and spiders died due to lack of proper care, he said.

Accusations of poorly maintained fences, including those at the bear, rhino and lion enclosures, lapses in night security allowing vandals to roam the zoo at will and cause damage, and pollution of the River Calder from piles of rotting animal waste are also detailed in the dossier.

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The charities Advocates for Animals and Animal Concern separately investigated the zoo in February this year and produced damning reports on its squalid state.

Advocates for Animals later commissioned a second report from Samanatha Scott, honorary fellow of the Royal (Dick) Veterinary School and lecturer at Glasgow University, and Jordi Casamitjana, a scientific researcher for the Born Free Foundation.

A draft of the report, which has been obtained by Scotland on Sunday, says there is clear evidence that animals at the zoo are suffering from stress and boredom. It also claims there are numerous breaches of health and safety regulations in buildings and animal enclosures and that the zoo should be closed immediately.

Last night John Robins of Animal Concern said the evidence of pets being fed to zoo animals was shocking. "I am horrified at the thought of people’s pets being placed in the care of the zoo only to end up as snake food.

"I personally advised a person to take their snake to the zoo because they couldn’t keep it at home. I shudder to think that snake may have dined on a small child’s pet gerbil."

A copy of the draft report along with Condie’s dossier will be handed to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) this week.

An SSPCA spokeswoman said the allegations would be looked at urgently and a fresh investigation launched if necessary.

She said inspectors had visited Glasgow Zoo earlier this year but had found no evidence of cruelty or suffering.

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"However, they did recognise that many of the buildings required upgrading and enclosures required work to make then more interesting for the animals and to stimulate them."

The zoo’s director, Roger Edwards, said he was not aware of pets being killed and used as animal feed. He said responsibility for snakes rested with the former director, Richard O’Grady, who died two years ago.

The zoo, which is believed to have debts of more than 2m, is hoping to solve many of its financial problems by selling off up to 30 acres of land to a building developer.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said it would take complaints against the zoo "very seriously indeed."

Catalogue of hazards and enclosures in disrepair

A REPORT into conditions at Glasgow Zoo carried out for Advocates for Animals by leading vet Samantha Scott and Jordi Casamitjana says the zoo is failing in its duty to provide for the needs of the animals under its care.

Scott says there is clear evidence that some animals are showing signs of stress. And Casamitjana described it as "one of the worst-kept large zoos I have seen in the UK".

The report states: "A zoo such as this has no place in 21st century Britain where standards are expected to be high."

It says the zoo is so short of cash that it cannot repair damaged or rotting enclosures and has been forced for years to reduce staff and rely on inexperienced volunteers.

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The report concludes: "The zoo poses a health and safety hazard to animals, staff and visitors. Lack of supervision or security by staff places the public in danger from the animals and vice versa."

It recommends that the animals be housed in alternative zoos and that a working party is set up to organise dispersal of all animals.

Key points in the report, compiled from visits in February and March this year, include:

Tigers’ enclosure too small, completely exposed to public, empty water pool surrounded by mud, repeated perimeter patrolling by big cats shows they are stressed. Nothing to keep tigers interested.

Two ponies locked in cramped, dirty and ramshackle stables without food.

Some monkeys had bald patches caused by over-grooming, a compulsive behaviour caused by stress. Food dumped in a heap on the floor instead of being scattered to allow monkeys to hunt for it. Peeling paint could poison monkeys if eaten.

Bears were confined to small indoor enclosure because the outer enclosure was in an appalling state of repair. The bears were not hibernating as expected.