Belfast Zoo manager among 6 staff suspended by city council
The manager of Belfast Zoo has been suspended on full pay while a council investigation into his handling of certain procedures gets under way.
Mark Challis is a long-term employee of the popular visitor attraction on the Antrim Road, which is owned and operated by Belfast City Council.
The Belfast Telegraph understands that the nature of the investigation is not financial but surrounds the zoo's governance processes.
It is believed the investigation is linked to fire drill procedures and record-keeping.
It is understood Mr Challis is one of at least 6 employees across the wider Belfast City Council operation currently suspended from work.
One staff member has been suspended on full pay for nine months.
When asked about Mr Challis, a council spokesman said: "Belfast City Council does not comment on individual members of staff.
"We can confirm that an investigation is under way at Belfast Zoo in relation to governance processes. The zoo is open for business and prepared to welcome the thousands of visitors we expect during what is our busiest time of the year."
Last night, Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers, the longest-serving member of the council's parks and leisure committee, said Mr Challis was a "brilliant manager" and called for the council to look at its suspension procedures.
"I have become concerned by the increasing number of suspensions of staff in Belfast City Council," he said.
"I firmly believe, as a long-serving councillor, we need to investigate why this seems to be happening on a regular basis.
"We need to look carefully at the need for suspensions and ask if it could be handled another way. Unions have raised this with councillors.
"Suspension is right on occasions but I feel sometimes it is not the road to go down. We need to have a much speedier system at getting things resolved."
Belfast Zoo is one of Northern Ireland's most popular attractions with locals and tourists alike.
Just weeks ago zoo staff and the public celebrated its 80th anniversary.
In November, the zoo hit the headlines when six lion-tailed macaques escaped and went walkabout in north Belfast before being successfully captured.
- More than 300,000 people visit Belfast Zoo every year.
- The 55-acre site in north Belfast is home to more than 1,000 animals and 150 species.
- The majority of its animals are endangered in their natural habitats.
- The zoo also carries out conservation work and takes part in European and international breeding programmes which help to ensure the survival of many species under threat.