Edinburgh Zoo workers have raised fears over safety and staffing in the wake of an incident which saw a giant panda let back into its enclosure while a keeper was still cleaning it out.
The narrow escape saw the keeper discard her brush and flee the enclosure with male panda Yang Guang just feet behind. She was said to have “heard it behind her” just in time.
Despite their “cuddly” image, adult giant pandas can be as dangerous as black bears and there have been several serious attacks at zoos in recent years.
The incident last year came to light in an anonymous e-mail from a group of staff to zoo bosses which goes as far as suggesting the institution is in “crisis”, and that safety had been compromised because of staffing issues.
A zoo spokesman denied that and said that the panda enclosure incident had been fully investigated, and that no staff or animals had been hurt.
Edinburgh City Council, which licenses the zoo, confirmed that the zoo had “revised” its procedures in the wake of the incident.
The e-mail from unnamed staff, which included a CCTV image of the incident, had even claimed that Yang Guang could have escaped into the public area of the zoo as a result of the security failure.
The e-mail stated: “We are...worried about the safety of staff. We found out that there was a very serious near miss last year when a panda was let back into the enclosure with a keeper cleaning in there and she could have been seriously injured or even have died.
“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?”
As well as revealing the panda incident, the e-mail made numerous other complaints and allegations, including suggesting that visitor numbers at special events like Zoo Nights are poor with negative online reviews. And it alleged staffing issues were preventing some zoo staff “giving proper care to the animals”.
An Edinburgh Zoo spokeswoman insisted they took “staff welfare and morale extremely seriously”.
She said: “The organisation has a well-established Employee Consultation Board to draw upon the views and expertise of a broad cross-section of RZSS employees. Should any grievances of this sort emerge they would be raised in this forum, which we can confirm has not occurred in this instance.”
Of the panda incident, the spokeswoman said: “As the council has indicated, staff reported a near miss within the panda enclosure last year. This was fully investigated and Edinburgh council were kept informed throughout the process..”