A POPULAR theme park was banned from adding to its wildlife collection after zoo inspectors found it had a number of "inadequate" enclosures and "high levels of aggression and stress among animals".
Tayto Park in Co Meath, owned by crisp manufacturer Largo Foods, was ordered not to introduce any new animals by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) until it complied with a number of stringent conditions.
Inspectors from the NPWS ordered the ban after a series of worrying findings.
Records seen by the Irish Independent reveal:
• NPWS inspectors found staff levels, experience, and qualifications were "not considered adequate for (the) animal collection" which includes wallabies, monkeys and endangered Amur leopards.
• The deaths of four animals raised alarm among inspectors.
• And "high levels of stress" were found among animals.
Other documents revealed there were 11 accidents which required hospital treatment in 12 months.
The new-animal ban began last October, following an inspection the previous month.
Conditions imposed on the park's zoo licence – to be implemented before the order could be lifted – include improvements to enclosures and the drawing up of plans for a conservation programme.
The ban was lifted just last week after the NPWS was satisfied that staffing levels and staff training had been improved.
In a statement on March 8 – prior to the lifting of the ban – Largo Foods boss Raymond Coyle told the Irish Independent: "While on paper the zoo inspector's initial report seems alarming, many of these issues are day-to-day realities for zoos worldwide. We've worked hard in just three years to create and maintain facilities and standards that other zoos have had decades to achieve.
"We believe Tayto Park is now in full compliance with all conditions imposed on its licence".
In answer to questions from the Irish Independent, a Tayto Park spokesman provided a letter from the Department of the Arts and Heritage – sent to Mr Coyle on March 11 – that gave the zoo permission to bring in new animals.
The letter noted that five of the conditions imposed on the park's zoo licence had been complied with and a further four will be reviewed at this year's zoo inspection.
It also imposed a new condition stating that the zoo must get prior approval from the department for further additions to the animal collection.
The spokeswoman said that Tayto Park has now been given permission to import two tigers.
As many as 500,000 people visited Tayto Park last year, making it one of the country's leading visitor attractions.
Documents show that 181 incident reports were filled out by staff over 12 months in 2011 and 2012, which were submitted to the NPWS prior to the zoo inspection.
The reports show that three children were sent to Temple Street Hospital in Dublin – two of them for X-rays – after playground accidents, while ambulances were called on six other occasions.
Mr Coyle said: "With so many visitors some accidents are inevitable, despite high safety standards and rigorous staff training." He said the vast majority of incidents were "very minor" but the zoo records, reports and offers "medical care in every instance".
He said that the park had recently passed a safety inspection "with flying colours".
The park ran into difficulty last summer when it applied for a licence to import four white lion cubs from South Africa. The NPWS officials refused Tayto's importation application, pending a zoo inspection on September 3.