THE OWNER of a Scottish animal park has blamed its closure on charity regulators – claiming they caused the death of at least one animal and suffering to others.
But Peter Lockhart, who owns Fife Animal Park, has given a cast-iron guarantee that all but three of the 390 animals will be rehomed.
It was revealed earlier this week that the seven-year-old park near Cupar was closing, sparking fears from animal charities that creatures including Scottish wildcats would be destroyed.
Mr Lockhart claimed that the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), the body which monitors charities north of the border, was responsible for the park’s demise.
He claimed a buyer was prepared to pay £500,000 to take over the park last October but was scared off after the OSCR started an investigation into claims charitable assets were included in the sale.
Mr Lockhart, 50, said: “We knew the animals were not ours to sell and made it clear from day one that we were selling the land on the condition the new owners would take over the trust and keep the park open.
“But as soon as OSCR stepped in they made our lives a living hell and we were forced to keep animals in awful conditions because if we moved them we would face prosecution.
“We couldn’t take any animals off the land without OSCR’s permission and so when our red ruffed lemur fell sick during the Christmas period we couldn’t get him medical attention.”
Mr Lockhart said no-one at the OSCR could be contacted over Christmas to give permission for treatment. The lemur, called Charlie, later died.
Mr Lockhart said other animals, including pigs, ponies and alpacas, were living in bad conditions because they faced a £2,500 fine and prison for moving the animals from the park without the permission of OSCR.
“The conditions we were forced to keep the animals in were horrendous as they were so overstocked,” he said.
“For the first time in our lives felt we had let the animals down.”
The land is owned by Mr Lockhart and his 72-year-old father Jock Lockhart, who has decided to retire, sparking the sale. The animal park itself is a registered charity.
The OSCR started an investigation after a member of the public alleged the sale of the land included the animals, which belong to the charity.
Jock Lockhart said of the OSCR: “The whole investigation was completely unfounded and they have failed in their duty to protect the animals and their welfare. Where is the charity in what they have done?”
The closure of the park also means that all 45 members of staff and volunteers have now been left without a job.
The Lockharts and the charity’s trustees are now working closely with Fife Council, which is getting a court order to take legal control over the animals.
The Lockharts said homes had already been found for all the animals apart from three pigs.
Mr Lockhart added that he has already been in contact with the Scottish Wildcat Breeding Programme who will rehome the park’s breeding pair.
OSCR’s Head of Enforcement, Laura Anderson, rebuffed the claims however.
She said: “We strongly dispute any allegation that our protective action resulted in the closure of the Fife Animal Park.
“We received a complaint about the charity (The Fife Animal Trust) and, as Regulator, we have a public duty to take action where the actions of charity trustees risk charitable assets or the reputation of the sector.
“Our intervention was a necessary precaution.”
“We will continue to work with the Council to achieve a satisfactory outcome and will publish a full Inquiry Report in due course.”