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Councillor vows to have Belfast Zoo handed over to Assembly control

By Rebecca Black

Published 07/11/2015

Belfast Zoo
Belfast Zoo
Some of the attractions at Belfast Zoo
Some of the attractions at Belfast Zoo
Some of the animals at Belfast Zoo

An Ulster Unionist councillor has declared he will make it his mission to offload Belfast Zoo to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Chris McGimpsey says the zoo, currently run by Belfast City Council, loses almost £2m a year.

He said the council should not have to be spending so much to maintain the attraction.

"I understand that roughly, Belfast Zoo loses £1,990,000 every year - about £40,000 a week," he said.

"That's what the ratepayers of Belfast throw away on the zoo. How many times have you gone to committee to try and get five grand for this pensioners' group or ten grand for that playgroup and you can't? And every week we throw away £40,000." He said if the zoo is to continue operating, it should be funded by Stormont.

"We are told the benefit of Belfast Zoo is that it's one of the great tourist attractions of Northern Ireland, and I accept that totally. Belfast Zoo, on the figures, is a great tourist attraction for Northern Ireland, not solely for Belfast," he said.

"Belfast City Council should make the decision to jettison Belfast Zoo, and it should be saying if it's great for the people of Northern Ireland then let the Assembly or some other six-county-wide body take it over."

Mr McGimpsey said this is an issue he plans to pursue and raise repeatedly, despite admitting he knows it may be unpopular in some quarters.

He said: "Belfast Zoo is something that I'm strongly opposed to. I'm strongly opposed to all zoos. I think they perpetrate cruelty and believe the only way to resolve that issue is to close zoos."

Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister said she was against closing the zoo but said it would be worth exploring other funding sources.

Belfast Zoo is one of the oldest visitor attractions in Northern Ireland. First opened in 1934, it attracts around 250,000 visitors a year.

It is home to more than 140 species of animal, including Asian elephants, giraffes, sea lions, penguins, ring-tailed lemurs, apes, monkeys, Malayan tapirs, giant anteaters, Malayan sun bears, Visayan warty pigs, Barbary lions and Sumatran tigers. The zoo also carries out important conservation work and takes part in over 90 European and global collaborative breeding programmes which help to ensure the survival of many species under threat.

Last year Ards Borough Council attempted to challenge whether it should fund a similar attraction - Exploris Aquarium in Portaferry, arguing that while it is in their council area they could not afford the £600,000 it costs to run it each year.

Councillors proposed closure, privitisation or an investment from Stormont.

However, Exploris was saved from closure after the Department of the Environment pledged to invest £900,000 in the facility.

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