Bankrupt Ballymena pet shop owner's fears for exotic animals as they move to new homes
It was one of Ballymena's most unusual shops. Inside Jungle World were a wealth of exotic animals including alligators, crocodiles and even two spider monkeys swinging around a huge cage out the back.
Now those animals are all being anaesthetised and boxed up to be transported to new locations after the owner of the pet shop on Linenhall Street was declared bankrupt.
Richard Potter said he had been trying to get the decision overturned, but after an all-day stand-off yesterday the animals are on their way to new homes.
Mr Potter was locked out of the premises two weeks ago after the Insolvency Service contracted an outside company to remove the contents of the shop.
Last night his partner Sarah O'Loane said she had asked for her own licence to be transferred to the premises so that the animals could be cared for, but this was refused.
The couple had hoped to buy back at least some of the animals, but Sarah said she was told last night that she was "out of the process", and staff from an exotic animal rescue charity in Co Meath began moving the animals.
Among the inhabitants of the premises are a six-foot alligator, a four-foot crocodile, an 18ft python and spider monkeys Winston and Lillie.
Mr Potter said two animals - a rhino iguana and a west African dwarf crocodile - were CITES animals (protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and were not supposed to be moved.
Winston and Lillie were not for sale because they were rescued from a private dealer in England. They were kept on public display when the shop was operating a small zoo.
"These are our pets. We built this place to give them refuge. They were rescued from the pet trade in 2009," Mr Potter said.
He added that he was concerned about the welfare of the animals in his absence and had come into the shop in the evening to feed them.
Mr Potter, originally a private keeper, decided to set up the pet shop 12 years ago.
But the intervening years have been rocky - several years ago he was taken to court by Ballymena Borough Council after a local woman had two of her fingers bitten off by Winston as she was feeding him nuts.
Mr Potter was also convicted of four counts of trading in endangered species after he was arrested by police during an undercover sting while trying to sell four lemurs in a Banbridge car park in 2010. He was fined £400, but said it was as a result of a missing microchip.
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said its animal welfare officials were monitoring the welfare of the beasts.
"Should there be any doubt regarding the ongoing welfare of the animals, enforcement action will be undertaken as required," a spokesman added.
A spokesperson for the Department of the Environment said its NI Environment Agency (NIEA) has been in daily contact with the Insolvency Service and its appointed agents since Mr Potter's insolvency. "NIEA along with colleagues from Mid and East Antrim Borough Council Animal Welfare team have been advising the Insolvency Service and their agents to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare during this period of transition," the spokesperson added.
"All appropriate Government agencies have been advising on the required paperwork to ensure that the animals are re-homed to suitably skilled persons as soon as possible.
"Over the period of the closure of this business, Insolvency Service and their agents have ensured that the welfare needs of the animals have been met. This included the assessment of an experienced veterinary surgeon, the volunteer services of Mr Potter, and finally the contracting of this care to experienced professionals."
The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's Insolvency Service said vets had been in attendance on a number of occasions to supervise the care of the animals, and that central and local government and non-governmental agencies have also been on site and have inspected the animals.
"All the bodies in question are content that there is appropriate welfare in place for these animals," a spokesperson said.
"To date the Insolvency Service has not received any application from Richard Potter to have his bankruptcy annulled or rescinded. The administration of this estate continues in the same way that it would for any other estate."