A family-run zoo in Wales is facing mounting pressure to be permanently close its doors after two lynx were killed in the space of a few days.
Dean and Tracy Tweedy left their house in Kent to start a new life at the Borth Wild Animal Kingdom in Ceredigion earlier this year with their daughters Paige, Sarah and Sophie, but two recent scandals have raised questions about how fit they are to run the enclosure.
Lillith, the 18-month-old Eurasian lynx escaped on October 29 and was killed by a professional marksmen last Friday, while today it emerged Nilly, a five-year-old female lynx, was strangled to death by a zookeeper in the enclosure last week.
The second lynx, a five-year-old female called Nilly, was killed during attempts to move it from its enclosure last week – while Lillith was still on the run, the Lynx UK Trust says
Owners Tracy and Dean Tweedy said in a statement Nilly died while moving her from an unsuitable enclosure before a council inspection
The couple and Ceredigion council have been accused of a cover-up by the Lynx UK Trust, who visited the site on Sunday, where they discovered there only three lynx in the enclosure when there should have been four.
Mr Tweedy bought the zoo for £625,000 earlier this year, which is home to more than 300 different animals including snakes, meerkats, wallabies, lions, leopards, crocodiles, snakes and an albino wallaby – along with a team of zoo keepers.
In a remorseful statement posted on the zoo’s Facebook page, Mr and Mrs Tweedy wrote that Nilly, the Eurasian lynx, was accidentally strangled to death with a catch-pole while an ‘under pressure’ member of staff was trying to catch her.
Their statement said: ‘It is with deep sadness and regret we announce the demise last week of Nilly, an adult female lynx, who was unrelated to Lillith but shared an enclosure.
‘Over the past few weeks our staff have been under incredible pressure and when the authorities gave us 24-hour notice that they would be carrying out a full cat inspection we took the decision to move Nilly to a more suitable enclosure.
Nilly (pictured) was strangled to death at Borth Zoo but one of the keepers last week but news of her death has only just emerged
In happier times: Lillith the lynx was gunned down on Friday
‘Unfortunately, there seems to have been a terrible handling error where it seems she twisted in the catch-pole and became asphyxiated.
‘The authorities were notified after the incident and will be carrying out their own full investigation.’
The couple said there had been ‘serious issues’ with how animals were housed at the zoo when they took it over six months ago.
The statement added: ‘The zoo is now closed and will remain closed until further notice. This summer we have been working hard to make vast improvements, but it does seem to be that we are swimming against the tide.
‘There are many serious issues with this establishment that need to be addressed before we go forward. Hopefully we can work with the authorities to bring this place up to code and create a home for these animals that is safe and secure.
‘This is the only zoo in the county of Ceredigion and it would be a real loss to the area if this much-loved home for rescued exotic animals was not allowed to continue after refurbishment.
‘We bought this place not to make money, but because we are animal lovers and could see that this place in this beautiful location needed some serious love and attention.’
Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor to the Trust, said both the zoo and Ceredigion County Council knew that Nilly had been killed before Lillith but had not disclosed the information.
Dean Tweedy’s comments shortly after he bought the zoo
Mr Tweedy, 48, said friends and family were shocked when he told them about their new adventure.
Shortly after he bought Borth zoo, he said: ‘We were looking for a petting farm but prices in Kent were expensive so we started looking further afield and that’s when we found the zoo.
‘It was everything we wanted plus lions so we couldn’t resist.
‘We already have 30 pets so we’re used to living with animals but this is obviously on a whole new level.
‘It’s a dream come true for the kids they’re loving every minute.
‘When we tell people what we’ve done we often have to repeat ourselves a few times before they realise they haven’t misheard us.’
A spokesman for Ceredigion said: ‘The Council is currently investigating a recent second incident regarding the death of a Lynx linked to Borth Wild Animal Kingdom which was brought to the Council’s attention the day after the animal had been inadvertently killed. Due to an ongoing investigation, we are unable to provide further comment.’
It was only when Dr O’Donoghue visited the site that rumours of a second lynx death he had seen on social media proved to be true.
He is now calling for the enclosure to be closed following his visit and the series of blunders which have put the zoo in the media spotlight.
Dr O’Donoghue added: ‘UK hobby zoos are a disaster waiting to happen, if they aren’t closed down I am in no doubt that eventually someone will be killed by an escaped and unpredictable captive-bred animal, Borth and other zoos like it must be closed down before someone gets killed.’
He added: ‘What if it had been Borth’s crocodile that escaped? Or their two lions? Their leopard almost escaped a few years ago when its cage door was left open; how long are we going to let these hobby zoos run by amateurs keep operating? Will it take the death of a human for someone to take action?’
A petition now has more than 900 signatures backing calls for Borth Wild Animal Kingdom near Aberystwyth to be shut down.
After meeting Mr Tweedy for himself, he said he felt ‘sorry and angry’ for the owner, who only bought the zoo earlier this year, and that he got the impression that Mr Tweedy knew he was ‘out of his depth’.
Dr O’Donoghue, who has experience working in zoos, told MailOnline: ‘The staff at the zoo are under a lot of pressure. There is a zoo inspection coming up but from what I saw they are not fit to run a zoo.
‘It’s dilapidated, they don’t have the right equipment, and the staff do not have the right experience to be looking after these animals. It was disgraceful.
‘The owners are under a lot of pressure. I think he’s aware he’s way out of his depth. I felt angry and sorry for them at the same time but not as sorry as I felt for the lynx.
Dean and Tracy Tweedy left their house in Kent to start a new life in Wales where they now share a home with snakes, lions and crocodiles, as well as their three daughters Paige (left), Sarah (second left) and Sophie (second right)
Photo issued by the Farmers’ Union of Wales of seven dead sheep who were believed to have been killed by an escaped lynx
Mrs Tweedy said she would be consulting her solicitor today after the council brought in marksman Andrew Venables (pictured) who runs a local firearms training school to kill Lillith
Mr Venables, pictured, told MailOnline that his company had previously trained staff at the wildlife park in the humane use of firearms
Co-owner of the zoo Dean Tweedy, pictured right, was pictured looking for Lillith when she escaped from the attraction two weeks ago
‘There are glaring animal welfare problems at the zoo.’
Dr O’Donoghue also hit out at the ‘incompetence and ineptitude’ of the owners and staff at the zoo and warned about the poor conditions the animals were kept it.
Nilly, who was strangled to death, allegedly used a tree that the zoo had failed to cut back to escape the enclosure and zoo keepers with ‘no experience’ were sent after her.
Dr O’Donoghue claims the remaining lynx’s have been transferred into small animal enclosures ‘the size of a living room’ and there could be further animals that escape due to the inexperience of the staff and ‘dilapidated’ condition of the zoo.
He added: ‘I’ve visited Borth Zoo and had the entire sequence of events explained to me. The levels of incompetence and ineptitude are mind-blowing.’
The trust claims Lillith was in a cage with five other lynx and was attacked by another cat before she went on the run.
Dr O’Donoghue added: ‘You don’t cram five solitary lynx into a single cage together, you don’t leave easily climbed trees in the enclosure, you don’t refuse offers of free help from actual lynx experts and you don’t try to hide these circumstances from a zoo inspector by rushing an animal move, resulting in it being strangled to death with a noose.
‘I am in no doubt whatsoever where the fault lies; focus on the zoo whose ineptitude placed an unpredictable captive-bred and human-habituated animal loose in the British countryside, then strangled a second to death whilst moving it to cover up their abysmal care practices.’
He added the Ceredigion County Council were ‘equally to blame’ for the death of both the animals.
The lynx was spotted sleeping in a closed caravan park a mile from Wild Animal Kingdom, pictured, where it escaped by leaping over an electrified fence
This cage is where the lynx was kept along with four others before it escaped
Ceredigion Council said they were ‘aware’ of reports a second lynx had been strangled to death. They have also defended its decision to shoot and kill Lillith, claiming the beast could have attacked children.
It said it received expert advice before ordering Lillith – which is twice the size of a domestic cat – to be shot by a professional marksman last Friday.
In a statement released on Sunday, the council said Lillith was ‘not afraid of humans’ and had entered a populated area. They also defended the shooting of the lynx, which had been approved by the police, the Welsh government and chief veterinary officer for Wales.
A council spokeswoman said: ‘It was not possible to assess the condition or temperament of the lynx but there were concerns about its likely behavioural response if it was startled or inadvertently confronted by a member of the public, especially by a young child.
‘It must be remembered that the lynx is classified in legislation as ‘dangerous and wild’ and the authorities were dealing with an unmanaged escape situation.’
It is understood the authority refused to consider tranquilising the lynx because the sedative takes around 15 minutes to take effect, meaning the cat may have run away and been difficult to find in the wooded terrain.
The spokeswoman added: ‘On other occasions and in different circumstances it may be fitting to attempt to tranquilise an escaped animal but, based on the factors involved with this incident, it was decided that it was not appropriate.’
The council said it had launched its own investigation to establish whether there had been any breaches of the operating licences.
Borth Wild Animal Kingdom said there had never been any recorded attack by a lynx on a human, yet officials warned they are wild animals with sharp teeth and claws and ‘will attack if cornered or trapped’.
Prior to the news that Nilly had been strangled to death, Mr and Mrs Tweedy said they were considering legal action against Ceredigion Council for authorising the shooting of the animal.
Baited traps, heat-seeking drones and even a police helicopter were employed in the hunt to try and catch the elusive animal.
But after she was spotted asleep under a caravan in a holiday park, which was closed for the winter season, on Friday, Ceredigion County Council decided drastic action was needed.
Andrew Venables, the professional marksman who shot the lynx, said attempts to catch the animal were ‘farcical’ and shooting it was the only option.
He said using a tranquiliser dart would have involved having to get much closer to the lynx, which could run away before it took effect.
‘The very sad truth is the fact an animal was allowed to escape in the first place and that the owners were unable to catch it,’ he said.
Dean Tweedy bought the Welsh farm for £625,000 earlier this year
Lillith was dubbed the ‘Beast of Borth’ after escaping from her cage by making a ‘giant leap’ over an electrified fence
A Ceredigion Council spokesman said with ‘deep regret’ that the animal had been humanely destroyed
Zoo staff member Kirsten Arnold is pictured searching for the lynx in the days before it was killed