Safari park run by Carrie Symonds’ zoo charity is accused of cover-up over death of SECOND lion cub in less than a month after web cam viewers claimed they saw it being accidentally crushed by another animal
- Three baby lions were born at the Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve last month
- Two have died since, with webcam viewers accusing safari park of a ‘cover-up’
- Park is owned by the Aspinall Foundation, Carrie Symonds’ new employer
A safari park owned by Carrie Symonds’ new employer has been accused of a cover-up over the death of a second lion cub in a month after webcam viewers claimed they saw it being crushed by another animal.
Three lions were born at the Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve last month, which is owned by the Aspinall Foundation – whose new Head of Communications is Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 32-year-old fiancee.
However, one cub died just three days after the January birth at the park near Hythe, Kent – and a second was tragically found dead on Tuesday.
Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve said the second lion cub had died after venturing out in the freezing weather as Storm Darcy blankets parts of Britain in snow, causes transport difficulties and isolates small communities.
But eagle-eyed webcam viewers claim they saw the poor little lion being crushed by another lion on the park’s Cub Cam livestream and accused the park of deleting comments supporting these claims.
Others questioned why the cub was allowed outside in sub-zero conditions when lions usually live in temperatures around 30C. The webcam has now been switched off at the park.
Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve said the second lion cub had died after venturing out in the freezing weather as Storm Darcy blankets parts of Britain in snow, causes transport difficulties and isolates small communities. But eagle-eyed webcam viewers claim they saw the poor little lion being crushed by another lion on the park’s Cub Cam livestream
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds and Damian Aspinall with cheetahs at the Foundation, to be reintroduced to the wild in South Africa
Carrie Symonds’ new employer is being investigated by the Charity Commission, it emerged yesterday.
The probe into the Aspinall Foundation, which has hired the Prime Minister’s fiancee as its head of communications, is examining its ‘financial management and wider governance’.
The news follows a Mail investigation into the animal conservation charity, which allows its founder’s son, the gambling tycoon Damian Aspinall, to live in a sprawling mansion at below-market rates.
Founded by Mr Aspinall’s father John – a friend of Lord Lucan – the organisation runs a zoo and safari park in Kent as well as conducting conservation work overseas.
The foundation also owns the stately home Howletts House, which Mr Aspinall shares with wife Victoria.
The couple rent the Grade II listed Palladian mansion for just £2,500 a month – while anyone staying in a ‘glamping’ treehouse at the charity’s Port Lympne park are charged more than £400 for one relatively cramped evening.
Accounts also show that the foundation has paid Mrs Aspinall £62,000 in just two years for ‘interior design services’. The law forbids trustees from benefiting unduly from the charities they are linked to.
The Charity Commission has been aware of the rental agreement for more than a decade.
Miss Symonds, in her capacity as spokesman for the foundation, said: ‘As is the case across the charity sector, the Aspinall Foundation is in regular dialogue with the Charity Commission regarding its governance and associated matters… [it] is fully aware of its legal obligations and remains committed to ensuring best practice compliance.’
The Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve today appealed to fans with the footage to come forward so they can look into the claims.
The Aspinall Foundation has been contacted for comment.
A spokesman for the Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve said: ‘During the early hours of this morning, we became aware that one of the lion cubs was not visible. We believe it ventured out through the bedroom door unnoticed by its mother.
‘With below freezing temperatures, it would have become weak and succumbed to the elements very quickly. It later became clear that it had indeed passed away during the night.
‘We are all incredibly upset by these events but the remaining cub appears strong and Oudrika, its mother, has taken it to the other shelter where she is protecting it.
‘We expect mother and cub to return to the bedroom dens soon.’
But one person claimed: ‘The cub last night didn’t die from the cold. His older brother lay on him and suffocated him by accident, people witnessed it on the live cam and Port Lympne are deleting comments from anyone who dares mention it on this thread.’
Another said: ‘I don’t understand, why would they feel the need to lie, it would still be an accident? How awful.’
‘This is incredible. You are lying. We are a lot of people that yesterday watch in stream the truth,’ one person wrote.
‘You are hiding the truth. Why did you decide to stop the chat of the cameras? You have fear that people connect and talk about your irresponsibilities.
‘You have lifes in your hands and you must keep animals in good conditions in all terms, and you didn’t provide a necessary space for keep the cubs alive. You are guilty.’
Another added: ‘I too have been watching the lions from the cub birth.
‘The problem seems to have been a young male lion totally besotted with his mother who has sadly fatally injured two of the cubs in his quest to try and get closer to his mother.
‘This is all so sad as the zoo had a massive following and community on the cameras.
‘This lioness has previously raised three cubs successfully but with only one male present.’
And one claimed: ‘In the wild, lionesses leave the pride to have their cubs, then after about 10 weeks bring them back.
‘Having five large lions and three, then two, tiny cubs in a small room, where the teenagers were over-excited, trying to play very roughly with them sometimes and often slamming down on top of them and trying to suckle their mother, was a recipe for disaster.
‘I hope that the next time she is expecting, that the Aspinall Foundation find a way to separate her with her own indoor shelter.
‘But being able to see the others through the fence. I’m absolutely gutted.’
A Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve spokesman added: ‘To the best of our knowledge we believe that the cub wandered out and succumbed to the elements, we have no evidence to support other scenarios.
‘We do not have the ability to watch back the live stream from Monday night into Tuesday morning. Therefore we can only surmise that the cub had left the warmth of the pride.
‘If any of our livestream viewers recorded the evening, as has been claimed, we would welcome the opportunity to review the footage.’
He added: ‘With regards to splitting the pride up, we always leave cubs in the protection of their parents unless they are rejected or the behaviour of the group becomes dangerous.
Three baby lions were born at the Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve last month
Ms Symonds, an animal lover who is thought to have turned the Prime Minister’s head on green issues, joined the Aspinall Foundation animal conservation charity last month
‘The remaining cub is being closely watched by their mother Oudrika.’
Ms Symonds, an animal lover who is thought to have turned the Prime Minister’s head on green issues, joined the animal conservation charity last month.
The Aspinall Foundation is dedicated to protecting endangered species and returning captive animals to the wild.
The charity also funds and manages animal protection projects in Congo, Gabon, Java and Madagascar, as well as supporting schemes in India and Cambodia.
A patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, Ms Symonds was named activist group Peta’s 2020 person of the year for her ‘unwavering voice for animals’.
Last July, supermarkets stopped selling coconut products marketed by several Asian brands after she highlighted how chained monkeys were being used to harvest the fruit from trees on farms in Thailand.
Before having Wilfred, she spent two years with the marine conservation group Oceana. She will continue to advise it as a consultant.
Ms Symonds was previously director of communications for the Conservative Party, having earlier worked for Tory MP John Whittingdale and the former chancellor Sajid Javid as a special adviser.
The rollercoaster history of the Aspinalls
1956 John Aspinall, who worked as a professional gambler, found inspiration in Nada the Lily by H. Rider Haggard – a book about an illegitimate Zulu prince who lived outside his tribe among wild animals.
He decides to build a garden shed housing a Capuchin monkey, a 9-week-old tigress and two Himalayan bears – with seemingly little regard for the annoyance of his neighbours.
1962 John opens the exclusive Clermont Club – a casino based in Mayfair – which was limited to 600 and included 5 dukes, 5 marquesses and 20 earls.
John Aspinall had been close friends with Lord Lucan and Sir James Goldsmith (pictured)
1970s He uses the proceeds from the Clermont Club to finance the opening of his first zoo at a neo-Palladian mansion – called Howletts – outside Canterbury and begins breeding gorillas with the dream of one day returning them to the wild.
1972 The entrepreneur sells the Clermont Club and establishes his second park on a 275-acre estate at Port Lympne near Folkestone.
1984 John sets up the Aspinall Foundation – an animal conservation charity dedicated to protecting animals around the world.
Darren Cockrill, 27, (pictured) dies after being found with multiple injuries
1980 Two members of staff, Brian Stocks and Bob Wilson, were mauled to death within weeks of each other by the same tigress called Zeya.
1984 Mark Aitken, a 22-year old keeper at Port Lympne, was crushed to death by a bull elephant called Bindu.
1989 Two-year-old Matthew McDaid has his left arm torn off after approaching the enclosure of a chimp called Bustah in an attempt to stroke it.
1994 Trevor Smith, a keeper at Howletts, was killed when a two-year-old Siberian tiger pounced on him.
1998 The Aspinall charity sets up orphan gorilla project in Gabon.
February 2000 Darren Cockrill, 27, dies after being found with multiple injuries in the stall of a female Indian elephant at Port Lympne.
June 2000 John Aspinall dies of cancer in Westminster at the age of 74, and his son Damian takes over. He sets about revamping the zoo charity.
2011 The charity returns gibbons to Java.
John Aspinall pictured with Djoum, Britain’s biggest gorilla at the time, who weighed 470lb at his Howletts zoo
2017 Lowland gorillas are returned to the Congo.
2019 The Aspinalls send African painted dogs from Kent to their native homeland of Gabon. They had not roamed the country for 25 years.
January 2020 The charity becomes the most successful in the UK at breeding rare clouded leopards.
February 2020 The charity becomes the first in the world to send captive bred cheetahs from the UK for re-wilding in South Africa.
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