NEW documents have revealed that a panda enclosure door at Edinburgh Zoo was faulty when a zookeeper came within inches of a potential mauling by a panda.
An investigation into the near-miss on July 13 2016 by zoo bosses stated that “one of the slides in the panda area was not closing properly and required maintenance”.
The zoo, home to the UK’s only giant pandas, uses numerous sliding doors to move pandas around their enclosure when keepers need to get in for cleaning.
In August this year zoo staff leaked details of the almost fatal accident to the media for the first time claiming the zoo was in “crisis”.
They leaked a terrifying image showing their colleague frantically fleeing out of a door as the adult male bear Yang Guang followed closely behind her.
In the photo, a brush still lies on the floor at the other side of the room next to a bin of debris she had been cleaning up when the panda managed to get inside.
After initially denying the incident, Edinburgh Zoo chiefs finally admitted the incident happened and was investigated by their zoo’s licensing authority, Edinburgh Council.
Now, a report obtained through a freedom of information request, reveals how the enclosure had maintenance issues at the time and staff hadn’t adhered to safety procedures properly.
The “Review Report on Panda Incident 2016” document, dated February 2017, was carried out by an Animal Collection Manager and highlighted several points.
They included: “The increased risk of human error when multiple people work at the same time with a large dangerous animal.
“A need to review current working procedures and practices with this in mind and a need to implement changes as soon as possible.
“One of the slides in the panda are was not closing properly and required maintenance.
“It became unclear after a disciplinary meeting whether the external door to the area was closed or open.”
The report also made reference to discussions over the future of the zoo’s pandacam which allows the public to view the pair from their homes.
It added: “The risk to reputation from the practice of live streaming video from large dangerous animal areas being serviced by keepers in the event of a similar incident.”
Following the panda near-miss, the zoo’s carnivore team leader had a meeting with staff to discuss existing safe working procedures.
The report said it was “clear” that if the procedures had been followed the accident would not have occurred.
The review also includes several changes which were put in place following the incident including a safe “buddy system” for pairs working in the enclosure.
They state: “It also clarifies that door to the outside should be secured shut prior to opening any slides to move the pandas around.”
The documents also include an email, dated February 19 this year, between Edinburgh Zoo and the council which reveals they had hired a new health and safety manager following the incident.
The near-miss only emerged when an email was leaked to the media this summer which revealed that most staff at the zoo were unaware of the incident.
It stated: “We got to hear about the near miss with the panda a while after it happened, just through rumour at first and then the keeper who experienced it went off sick and never came back.
“She heard it behind her just in time to be able to get out of the enclosure. If she hadn’t she could have been mauled, seriously injured or even killed.
“We also know that the panda could have escaped into the public area of the zoo. Are we going to wait for a disaster to happen before things change at the zoo?”
They claimed short staffing led to a lack of proper care including ‘near misses, mistakes and animal deaths’.
A spokesman for the Royal Zoological Society Scotland today (fri) said: “RZSS takes welfare of animals and staff extremely seriously and follows strict safety procedures, with any incidents duly reported to City of Edinburgh Council.
“Staff reported a near miss last year which was fully investigated and Edinburgh Council were kept informed throughout the process.
“No staff or animals were physically harmed during the incident.”