A troubled Highland zoo has found a loophole allowing it to remain open without a licence – by scrapping admission charges from today.
It will mean several months of asking customers for donations to help feed the animals.
Black Isle Wildlife Park had its zoo licence withdrawn by councillors last month (JUN) after a series of inspections exposed basic failings in animal welfare.
Visitors had complained of dead animals, inadequate feeding standards and cages in poor condition.
Subsequent inspections found the zoo, at Drumsmittal, North Kessock, was “seriously below the standards required for operators to be in possession of a zoo licence.”
The 50-acre park’s owners, Eric and Maureen Maxwell, had until today to appeal but have instead decided to rebrand the place as a “petting zoo” for domestic species only which requires only a “public entertainment” licence.
It means all its exotic creatures must go. Most have already been rehomed elsewhere.
The couple have invited critics to visit the place to review the changes.
Family friend and spokeswoman Alison Gallagher confirmed that they would not appeal the loss of their zoo licence.
She said: “It will be free admission and a request for donations to help pay for the feed. I believe a lot of places have done this in the past. To tide us over and remain open, we’re prepared to do that.
“Yes, we’ve had problems in the past but these (issues) have been rectified. If people want to visit the park now it’s completely different from what it used to be. A lot of work has been done.”
She added: “There was a vendetta going back to 2014, and it just seems to have been following the family with everything they do.
“But if those making the complaints were to visit two and a half years on, they would see the difference for themselves. It’s a lovely place. The animals are well looked after.”
Llamas, alpacas and red deer are among more than 260 different species remaining at the park.
It is likely to be September at the earliest that the council’s licensing committee considers the petting zoo or “farm park” application.
A spokeswoman for the council said: “Prior to approving such a licence, we need to be satisfied that the care and welfare of any animals kept at the venue would be properly managed.”
Environmental health officers are monitoring the animals’ welfare.