SEA lions at Edinburgh Zoo could be forced to find a new home after council bosses criticised their living conditions.
The sea lions – one of the most popular attractions at the zoo – could be shipped out after an inspection report found that their enclosure fell short of “modern standards”.
The zoo has been told it has three years to improve the enclosure, which houses three Patagonian sea lions from Norway – Sofus, Miranda and Mona.
The inspectors said: “The accommodation and water management for the sea lions must be brought up to modern standards, so as to include facilities for separation, isolation and restraint of the animals, and a high standard of water treatment and hygiene.
“An alternative strategy would be to cease to keep sea lions.
“Either way, this must be resolved within the lifetime of the current licence – i.e. three years.”
The zoo has also been told that big cat enclosures – particularly jaguars – must be upgraded to ensure the safety of staff, and the welfare of the cats themselves.
And repairs must be completed in time for the renewal of the zoo’s licence in 2012.
David Windmill, Chief Executive of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said: “These and other modifications to the zoo infrastructure were part of the Master Plan for Edinburgh Zoo announced by the Society in 2004 and agreed with the City of Edinburgh Council.
“These plans were put on hold when development of surplus land to help fund the modernisation of the zoo was delayed due to the public inquiry into the City of Edinburgh Local Plan.
“This has now been resolved and the Society can get on and plan these developments which zoo management agreed with the Zoo inspectors.
“The sea lion pool and big cat enclosures are part of the original Sir Patrick Geddes designed zoo and therefore care must be taken in carrying out modifications to these areas of the park.”
‘Failure to understand’
The report will be sure to fuel concerns over the number of animals at the zoo, after a 2006 report found that 200 had either died or been moved out during that year.
Among the animals to leave this year were the UK’s only remaining polar bear, Mercedes, and two Siberian tigers, Sasha and Yuri, all of whom were moved to the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie.
However Mr Windmill hit back at claims that the zoo’s animal population is dwindling.
He said: “This is not true and indicates a failure to understand how modern zoos operate.
“The majority of animals at the zoo are part of endangered species breeding programmes and so there is a constant flow of animals in and out of both Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park.
“Over the past seven years the number of animals in the Society collections has remained much the same.”
However inspectors did praise the zoo’s “high standards” of conservation, research and animal welfare, and commended it for “excellent new developments” such as the Budongo Trail.
Under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, zoos must be inspected midway through the period of their licence.
The inspection team included two inspectors appointed by Scottish ministers.