Aspinall relief at tiger cage victory

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Zoo owner John Aspinall last night vowed to enter his tigers' cages "within days" following a ruling he can continue his controversial policy of encouraging his keepers to bond with dangerous animals.

A majority decision by an industrial tribunal at Ashford, Kent, yesterday upheld his appeal against a ban by Canterbury city council on zoo staff entering adult tigers' cages.

Mr Aspinall said his mood and that of his staff at his two Kent zoos - at Port Lympne and Howletts - was one of relief rather than victory. "Morale is very high. I think even the animals sense that something good has happened."

It has been 14 months since any of Mr Aspinall's keepers have been inside the tiger cages following a ban under the Health and Safety at Work Act. Mr Aspinall, 68, took the matter to the industrial tribunal, threatening to close his zoos to the public if he lost.

The three-member tribunal's decision in his favour - with some amendments to safety rules - is a blow to the council which spent pounds 35,000 on the case. The authority imposed the ban on employees entering the tigers' cages after a keeper, Trevor Smith, died when he was mauled by 500lb Siberian tiger Balkash in 1994.

The council said some aspects of the ruling have caused concern and its legal department is studying the findings. An appeal has not been ruled out.