A SPECIAL licensing meeting next week will determine whether the owner of a South Lakes animal park is fit to hold a zoo licence.

David Gill, who runs South Lakes Safari Zoo, will appear before Barrow Borough Council’s Licensing Regulatory Committee faced with the prospect of having the zoo closed down.

The review follows Mr Gill’s conviction in November for three counts of allowing an animal to escape into the wild.

The offences related to a flock of Sacred Ibis, and during the trial it emerged that Mr Gill had shot dead 13 of the birds following a number of escapes between July and October in 2013.

Any offence committed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act triggers the need to review a licensee’s suitability.

Members have the option of issuing a Zoo Closure Direction, issuing a warning as to future conduct or taking no further action.

A report by the council’s Environmental Health Manager said that a search warrant was executed at the park after a number of sightings of Sacred Ibis on the Furness Peninsula.

Officers from Cumbria Police, National Wildlife Crime Unit and Animal and Plant Health Agency found 27 birds in the roofless enclosure, but the zoo’s records indicated there should be 36.

The report states that officers witnessed and filmed birds flying out of the Dalton zoo.

Mr Gill said he was aware of the birds getting out and was trying to resolve the situation.

He also said the problem related to birds hatched in 2013 that had not had their wings clipped, but there were no records of Sacred Ibis breeding at the zoo in 2013 and ring identification showed some birds that had escaped were born in 2009.

The report says that after being told by police he would be reported for suspected offences, Mr Gill returned to the park and, “arranged for the Sacred Ibis to be herded into an area before proceeding to shoot as many birds that appeared able to fly.

“A witness statement suggests that this procedure was begun whilst staff and visitors were present within the park.”

Mr Gill pleaded not guilty to the offences, maintaining that he had been unaware the birds could escape from their open enclosure.

But Judge Gerald Chalk said they 'should not have been capable of flight' in the first place and fined Mr Gill £2,870 and the park £5,370.

Sacred Ibis are classed as an ‘invasive species’ and the Environmental Health Manager’s report says that “they pose such a threat to the natural fauna of Britain, should they invade, it is one of only three species that the government has developed an action plan to deal with.”