Belfast Telegraph

Councillor in call for Belfast Zoo to be shut after death of three giraffes

A giraffe at Belfast Zoo
A giraffe at Belfast Zoo
Chris McGimpsey
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Belfast councillors are to discuss a special report on the death of three giraffes in the city's zoo last year.

Party group leaders in City Hall are also to be briefed next week on the fatalities after serious concerns were expressed by Ulster Unionist member Chris McGimpsey.

He told the Belfast Telegraph that a zoo worker had contacted him through a third party to reveal that one of the animals had strangled to death while feeding.

The two other fatalities related to treatment under anaesthetic.

A council spokeswoman said all three incidents were investigated by an independent vet.

She added that animal welfare was of prime importance to Belfast Zoo and it was continuing to implement "lessons learned" from the incidents.

Mr McGimpsey said he was told last month that a giraffe had strangled while feeding from a high basket earlier in the year.

"No further details of the incident were given," he said.

"I wondered if it was a young giraffe which hadn't been tall enough to reach and had stretched too much and lost its footing.

"I immediately raised the issue with Nigel Grimshaw, the council's director of city and neighbourhood Services.

"He knew absolutely nothing about it."

The councillor said Mr Grimshaw investigated the matter and returned to confirm that the animal had strangled itself to death last March.

"I was stunned that Mr Grimshaw had not been previously informed of this. If senior council officers are kept in the dark then councillors will also be unaware of such incidents, and that is totally unacceptable," he added.

Mr McGimpsey said it reinforced his belief that the attraction should be closed.

"I have long wanted the zoo shut down and turned into a conservation centre," he said.

"It takes £2m of ratepayers' money a year - that's £40,000 a week - to keep it open.

"The zoo was built as a symbol of prestige in this city.

"It is like a Victorian peep show, with animals, which we come to gawk at. Its time has passed and we need to realise that and have the courage to close it."

The council spokeswoman said a report detailing the death of three giraffes in 2018 would be presented to the city growth and regeneration committee on Wednesday.

She said: "All the incidents were investigated by an independent vet, independent post-mortems were carried out and the deaths were reported to the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which has oversight of the zoo licence and carries out inspection under their animal husbandry and welfare remit. The report provides assurance on animal welfare and husbandry practices at Belfast Zoo.

"Two of the deaths of Rothschild giraffes were related to treatment under anaesthetic, which is fairly high risk for giraffes. However, this is the first time since 1988 a death of this kind has occurred. The zoo vet has carried out 152 successful procedures since 1988. The third animal died after becoming tangled in a feeding basket that had been in use for 15 years without incident. This basket has since been adapted.

"Animal welfare is of prime importance... which is why we are continuing to implement all lessons learned as a result of these three unfortunate incidents. Staff continue to work to ensure the welfare of all animals."

Mr McGimpsey said council officers were to brief party group leaders about the deaths on Monday, and he had also been invited to the meeting.

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