A ZOO which accidentally killed some of its exotic birds with rat poison has defended its decision to resort to pest control.

Rainbow lorikeets died after eating the substance at Drusillas Park near Alfriston.

As reported by The Argus, leading animal rights activities to protest outside its gates on Sunday.

The zoo said it was forced to call in pest controllers after five lorikeets died between November and January because they were attacked by rats when they landed on the ground.

The poison was buried deep underground where the rats were known to be nesting but a spokeswoman for the zoo said residual bait was dropped by the rats above ground which was then ingested by the birds.

This resulted in a total loss of 16 birds.

A spokeswoman said yesterday: “This was an unprecedented situation with the rats becoming bolder and more numerous, and we made the decision that we had to take firm action. As soon as this happened the remaining birds were shut away to ensure no further casualties.”

Eastbourne Animal Rights Action held a protest outside the zoo on Sunday calling for the owners to be open about what happened.

The group claimed they were told 22 animals, including crowd a red panda and a meerkat, had died in the incident.

Yesterday the zoo insisted this was completely untrue - a meerkat had died three weeks ago but because of a blood clot and no pandas had died.

A third previously at Drusillas is on loan to an animal management centre at an agricultural college in Hampshire and is “alive and well.”

The spokeswoman said they will change their procedures following the deaths of the lorikeets.

She added: “As a result of this situation we will be reviewing our procedures for pest control to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.

“This was a very unfortunate accident that has upset the entire zoo team and it has been made worse by statements about other animals that are malicious and completely untrue.”

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

A member of the group at the time claimed Drusillas had not provided “all the facts”.

They added: “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.

“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.”