A SOUTH Cumbrian zoo is once again at the centre of national media attention after it emerged a lion died from poisoning at the animal attraction.

Four-year-old African lion Nero died at South Lakes Safari Zoo, at Dalton-in-Furness, from barbiturate poisoning, last July, it has emerged.

The zoo has said it could not be certain about the source of the barbiturate – a drug that acts as a central nervous system depressant – but that it could have come from contaminated meat fed to the lion.

Animal welfare charity the RSPCA has launched its own investigation and said it was 'deeply concerned' to hear about the lion’s death.

The news of Nero's death came to light ahead of the airing of BBC Two's 'Trouble at the Zoo' programme, which is being shown at 9pm tonight.

It documents five months at the attraction between April and September last year and follows recently-appointed animal director Andreas Kaufmann and his efforts to vastly reduce the number of animals kept on-site and to modernise practices.

The Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd (CZCL) was awarded the licence to run the attraction last year. It followed a grim report to Barrow Borough Council highlighting the deaths of 486 animals between January 2013 and September 2016.

The RSPCA told The Westmorland Gazette this week: "Despite new management and some reported improvements in welfare at the zoo last year, the RSPCA continues to have concerns about conditions there.”

John Woodcock, MP for Barrow and Furness, called for the police to investigate the circumstances surrounding Nero's death and urged documentary makers to hand over any evidence in their possession.

Karen Brewer, chief executive of CZCL, said the zoo could not determine 100 per cent where the contamination came from and emphasised that it was essential steps were taken to ensure it did not happen again.

"Barbiturates can only be administered by a vet and could have come from Nero’s food supply," she said. "Safari Zoo has an ongoing contract with a meat supplier to only deliver meat that has not received veterinary attention in any way."

Ms Brewer said Nero was a firm favourite with both visitors and animal carers and was 'deeply missed.'