AN AWARD-WINNING animal park accidentally killed some of its exotic birds with rat poison when trying to get rid of vermin.

Drusillas Park near Alfriston has admitted “several” rainbow lorikeets died after eating the poison.

But animal rights campaigners say they have been told up to 22 animals may have been killed by the poison, including crowd favourites a red panda and a meerkat.

Eastbourne Animal Rights Action held a protest outside the attraction yesterday and is calling for Drusillas to be open and transparent about what has happened.

Staff at the zoo called in pest controllers after rats started killing off their flock of parrots.

A pest-controller buried the poison underground but these were then dropped by rats in the Lory Landing walk-through enclosure where it was eaten by the birds.

Thirteen campaigners gathered outside the attraction yesterday in a hastily arranged protest which was overseen at one point by four police officers.

A member of the group said: “We don’t believe Drusillas have provided all the facts. They need to be completely open about what has happened.

“Meerkats and red pandas are endangered species and there could be serious consequences for Drusillas if they have died.

“We had a mixed response from customers. Some were really quite rude and said we were ruining their kids’ day.

“But others were shocked and turned around from going in saying they wouldn’t want to be customers of that place.

“We were told on Friday that 22 animals had died but that was on Friday. There might be more that have died since.

“We want Drusillas to make an apology. They have not shown any empathy for those animals.

“Putting down rat poison to kill rats is really not OK. They should find a more humane way such as traps that don’t kill the rat so they could release them somewhere.

“They are there to care for animals not to kill them.”

A Drusillas spokeswoman said: “Unfortunately, zoos can prove a paradise for vermin with food, water and shelter readily available.

“We enlisted the help of a professional pest control company who placed bait deep underground where only the rats would find it.

“It would appear that the rats dropped some residual bait above ground level which was subsequently ingested.

“As soon as we became aware of the danger, the birds were shut away to prevent any further casualties.

“We are administering Vitamin K as a precaution and no other animals at the park have been affected.”