Kirklees Council has been urged to carry out a special inspection of Heckmondwike’s Ponderosa Rural Therapeutic Centre following claims that animals are in distress.
Animal conservation experts at the Born Free Foundation said they were aware of several “red flag” issues that warranted a formal investigation.
The charity’s Head of Animal Welfare, Chris Draper, urged the council to initiate a special inspection under the Zoo Licensing Act in conjunction with a Government-appointed zoo inspector “as a priority”.
Owners of Ponderosa say they are regularly inspected and the last one took place in June which they passed and retained their licence.
But videos purporting to show animals displaying “zoochosis” - defined as abnormal or stereotypical behaviour in captive animals - were widely shared on social media.
Several people reported Ponderosa to the RSPCA. They were in turn advised to contact Kirklees Council, which licenses the site off Smithies Lane.
Videos of animals looking distressed were posted on social media by Kirsty Naylor, 29, from Birkenshaw, who said she was “appalled” at what she saw.
“In a pen the size of a double shed there were 11 raccoon dogs. That’s very bad.
“There were so many animals in one small space that they were on top of each other.
“Many of them were displaying stereotypical stressed behaviours including repetitive pacing, calling, and fighting. They looking depressed.
“The otters were crying. A member of staff said that was normal. I did some research and it was suggested that that crying sound is a sign of distress. They are in a stressful state.”
She claimed that animals were inadequately supervised or monitored, which allowed children to poke their fingers into cages.
“I do a little bit of rescue work and I have a passion for animal welfare. But anyone that visits can see what is wrong with it. I spoke to a lot of people on the day and they were shocked at what they were seeing.
“Not all of the animals look in bad condition but it’s the psychological effect that you can see that is distressing.”
Another visitor, Laura Richmond from Halifax, said she had reported the Ponderosa to the RSPCA “but they do not want to know”.
“They said it was a council matter. Given the amount of complaints they are receiving I am really surprised that they would not even bother to go out.
“The animals are in tiny pens and cages. One pen is so narrow that the animals are just pacing back and forth. It’s awful.”
Zoologist Chris Draper at the Born Free Foundation expressed frustration and disquiet at the apparent inability of Kirklees Council to act on repeated complaints about the centre.
“Born Free continues to be concerned by reports from members of the public about the welfare of the animals at this zoo,” he said.
“We have previously passed several serious concerns from visitors to the local authority, including reports of animals displaying stereotypic behaviour and others reported to be injured, yet the council’s representative claimed that the zoo met the required standard of care.
“Born Free is a charity with no enforcement powers over zoos; we can only investigate and raise concerns to the licensing authority, and in this case we appear to have met a dead end.
“The various concerns raised deserve additional scrutiny, and we are calling on the local authority to initiate a special inspection under the Zoo Licensing Act in conjunction with a Government-appointed zoo inspector as a priority.”
Ponderosa owner Howard Cook said: “Ponderosa is a fully accredited and licenced Zoo. We are subjected to regular checks by an inspector appointed by the Secretary of State and the local Animal Health Officer.
“Our last inspection took place on June 9, 2017 and was undertaken by an internationally respected vet, Matt Brash and the Kirklees Animal Health Officer, David Hamer. The result of that investigation was positive and we retained our operator’s licence.”
Mr Cook said he was unable to comment on specific customer complaints despite Miss Naylor posting them on the centre’s Facebook page.
Kirklees council have been approached for comment.