Departmental inspectors raised concerns about the management of animals at the National Reptile Zoo after four rare Amazonian turtles died within 48 hours of their arrival at the Kilkenny attraction.
A pair of yellow-spotted river turtles, which are on the red list of threatened species, died within a day of being introduced to a crocodilian enclosure at the zoo towards the end of 2017.
Two more of the turtles were then introduced to the same enclosure and died the next day. None of the animals had been quarantined, none of their medical history had been read, and no post-mortem examinations were carried out, according to the inspection report.
During the inspection last year, officials from the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht criticised zoo management for “poor decision-making” in relation to the treatment of the turtles, which are categorised as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The officials said it had been inappropriate to mix the surviving turtles in the main crocodilian vivarium when 50% of them had died the day before, and the decision not to conduct a post-mortem was a “poor call”.
The inspectors also noted that the National Reptile Zoo had not recorded the deaths of the four turtles in its inventory for 2017, as it was required to do, and their bodies had been retained for use as education skeletons.
The zoo was also criticised for disposing of dead animals, including venomous species, using a garden-waste incinerator on the site. This was deemed “inappropriate” because it does not completely destroy biological waste.
The concerns contained in the inspection report were described as “pretty much a non-event” by the director of the National Reptile Zoo, James Hennessy.
“When dealing with 160 exotic animals, there will always be the odd hiccup,” he said.
“The turtles that died off after being sent to us from a UK zoo had been quarantined and cleared by a vet in the UK. The inspectors’ only issue with this was that in our policy we state that we quarantine on site, and so did not reflect what had actually happened.
“The issue with them not in our inventory was simply a clerical error – easily amended,” he added.
Mr Hennessy explained that the four turtles had most likely died due to “known previous medical conditions along with the stresses of transport”. He decided against conducting post mortems due to limited financial resources, which he said were instead used to care for the living animals in the collection.
He denied that dead animals had been incinerated at the zoo, as described in the inspection report. “It was just something that was written into one of our policies,” he said.
The departmental inspectors also identified topical skin wounds on some animals, and recommended that these be treated with a non-steroid cream. They also noted that the zoo’s Chinese water dragon had a mandibular lesion, which required veterinary care.