Belfast Telegraph

I did nothing wrong, insists pet shop boss who sold rare lemurs from back of his van

By Connla Young

A pet shop owner accused of animal cruelty after he sold rare animals from the back of a van has denied he did anything wrong.

Richard Potter (28), of Cypress Park, Cloughmills, is accused of cruelty after attempting to sell two pairs of lemur primates in the car park of the The Outlet shopping centre in Banbridge, Co Down, on February 19, 2010.

Four of the endangered animals, which are native to Madagascar, were recovered by police and officials from the USPCA during a sting operation.

Lemurs have been a protected species in their native land for decades and they are also protected under international law.

At a hearing at Banbridge Magistrates Court yesterday, which sat in Newry, Mr Potter was told he will face a trial in a Magistrates Court next month.

The Lemurs were uncovered after Mr Potter agreed to meet with an undercover reporter in the car park of The Outlet.

However, before the deal was done the Co Antrim man was approached by animal welfare officers and members of the PSNI who surrounded his van. Police then seized the primates.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night Mr Potter, who hopes to open a zoo in Ballymena, strongly denied any wrongdoing.

He said: "I transport animals all over the place and on this occasion we were in Banbridge delivering these animals.

"We were just doing what we normally do. But we are fighting this the whole way. There is no indication that we were doing anything wrong and I strongly disagree with the allegations.

"I totally reject the charge 100%, we are not in the business of doing that. There were no signs of cruelty and the animals were in tip-top condition. There was no cruelty aspect whatsoever. The animals were in great condition.

"We got them from a primate sanctuary in England."

Mr Potter said he would encourage people to buy rare animals only through legitimate channels.

He said: "We would encourage people to buy from people who have background knowledge of the animals. My business is classed as a pet shop and zoological establishment. My aim is to get the black market out of Northern Ireland and to make sure people are working within the law.

"I am the sole proprietor of Jungle World and I don't want people to get the wrong impression of us. Our place is growing week by week and month by month and we get great feedback. That's good for the town and we are working with the local council to try and make the place larger.

"Anyone can make an allegation that you did something and it's up to you to prove you haven't, and I feel we have been forced in the last year-and-a-half to do that. Our aim from the start has been to do good."

In a search carried out at Jungle World another lemur along with a range of other animals not on the danger list were found by investigators, including a family of pygmy African mongooses, marmosets, meerkats, spider monkeys, skunks and sugar gliders, tiny marsupials from Indonesia.

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