Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council begins security review after Zoo chimp escape - call for two-week shutdown

By Jonathan Bell

Belfast City Council has begun a review of security at the zoo after calls for the facility to be shut for a fortnight to review the weekend's chimp escape.

Five chimpanzees managed to escape from their enclosure and mingle among visitors at the north Belfast attraction on Saturday.

It's thought a branch which was downed after the heavy winds was propped up against a wall by the animals in order to facilitate their escape.

Eye witnesses said there was no doubt the escape was "orchestrated". One man said when he informed staff they were very concerned telling him to "get his kids out right now".

A zoo spokesman said the animals were only out for a short period before returning to their enclosure as they were "quite cowardly".

The council said every morning checks are made of the enclosures to spot potential risks. It said there was a possibility the branch may have fallen after the checks were carried out.

It described the incident as "highly unusual" but said the zoo remained open for business. The zoo costs the council around £2m a year to run.

It is the second incident at the zoo in as many weeks, after a red panda escaped late last month. And last June a spider monkey was killed on the road after it managed to escape.

UUP Councillor, Alderman Chris McGimpsey has called for the zoo's total closure in the past. He said there should be a two-week shutdown to review the weekend chimp escape.

He said: "The escape of five chimpanzees at Belfast Zoo was a potentially dangerous situation which could have ended with very serious consequences for the general public.

“For some time now I have voiced my concerns at how Belfast Zoo is operated, and I have called for its permanent closure.

“At the very least, the zoo should now close for two weeks to enable a thorough appraisal to be undertaken so that the safety of animals and visitors can be ensured in the future.”

A Belfast City Council spokeswoman added: “The health and safety of both visitors and animals at Belfast Zoo is paramount and following Saturday’s incident involving a chimpanzee briefly escaping its enclosure, council is instigating a review of animal security.

"This was a highly unusual event, despite the natural curious nature of chimpanzees, and council would like to reassure the public that Belfast Zoo is fully committed to providing a safe and enjoyable experience for all its visitors, and the Zoo remains open for business as usual.

“Zookeepers carry out a range of checks as part of their daily duties, including ensuring enclosures are free from objects which could pose a security risk to animals or visitors. In the case of Saturday’s incident, management are assessing whether the tree branch used in the escape fell after morning checks had been completed, having been weakened during high winds on Friday evening and into Saturday.”

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