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Belfast Zoo lost £1m last year as doubts shroud future

By Rebecca Black

Published 13/01/2016

Gorilla mum Kwanza and her baby Baako at Belfast Zoo
Gorilla mum Kwanza and her baby Baako at Belfast Zoo
A sea lion
A crowned sifaka monkey
Pink flamingos at the zoo
Giraffes at Belfast Zoo

A damning council report has thrown doubt over the future of Northern Ireland's only zoo after it lost more than a million pounds last year.

The report, due to be discussed at today's meeting of the city growth and regeneration committee, found that compared to others in the UK and Ireland, Belfast Zoo has the lowest number of visitors, charges the least and earns the least income per visitor.

It has also found:

  • Declining visitor numbers.
  • High staff costs.
  • Significant overspends in a number of areas.
  • No comparisons of costs with other zoos.
  • The cost of the zoo is rising every year, while income is falling.

Belfast Zoo cost £2,822,838 to run last year - but income was just £1,758,500, leaving a major shortfall of £1,064,338.

It welcomed 272,588 visitors in 2015, who spent on average £6.45 per visit.

This compares poorly with other zoos in the UK and Ireland.

Dublin Zoo's annual income is £14,106,558, Chester Zoo's is £26,199,677 and Edinburgh Zoo's is £10,862,365.

Belfast Zoo's visitors came primarily from Northern Ireland, with just 3% from outside the UK and Ireland.

A plan has been devised for improvements at the zoo, which includes a recommendation to find savings, controls on overtime, a review of ticket prices, and a setting of savings targets.

Belfast Zoo was opened in 1934. It is currently home to more than 1,000 animals and 150 species on its 55-acre site, including elephants, bears, monkeys, lions and a kangaroo.

However, Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey blasted the zoo in its current state as "a joke".

He said for the zoo to be sustainable it needed a major investment and revealed he was planning to propose that the council look at other alternatives for its future - such as Stormont taking it over its running.

"Eight per cent of the visitors are from outside Belfast, which makes my case for me - Belfast should not be paying for it," he argued.

"Zoos are a thing of the past; Victorian peep shows, not what people want any more.

"We are taking animals that normally would have been on flat plain land and we stick them on a hill overlooking Belfast Lough in areas which are just too small.

"It is virtually impossible to run a zoo without there being massive concerns about animal welfare."

Mr McGimpsey added: "I will be bringing forward a motion to the February meeting of the council asking for serious consideration as to whether or not Belfast can afford this - £2m a year, £40,000 a week. How can we afford to take £40,000 and throw it away every week?"

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