Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Should Belfast Zoo be closed? Animal rights group and UUP councillor claim site costing £2m a year

By Claire Williamson

Calls have been made to close Belfast Zoo and turn it into a conservation site for Northern Ireland's "priority species".

An animal rights group in Northern Ireland along with a UUP councillor is calling for its closure.

The Zoo's 55 acre site opened in 1934 and is home to more than 1,000 animals and 150 species.

However Northern Ireland Says No To Animal Cruelty (NISNTAC) and councillor Chris McGimpsey claim the Cave Hill attraction is costing Belfast ratepayers £2m a year.

UUP councillor Chris McGimpsey has branded it a "Victorian animal peep show".

A protest was held on Friday at the Waterfront Hall Belfast where the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums held its annual conference.

Mr McGimpsey told the Belfast Telegraph zoos have "no place" in 2016 and that an alternative has to be found.

He said: "The animals are kept in close confinement in an atmosphere that is not conducive to them.

"They are purely for the benefit of people, not for the benefit of the animals. Zoos are inherently cruel and I'd like to see us moving away from it, they've had their day.

"We need to do something , we are a caring community, we are interested in animal welfare. Let's do a conversation centre for native species. A lot of those are under-threat and utilise the acres for animal welfare and not to set them up there for people to gawk at them."

Mr McGimpsey said the current costs of the zoo were "unanswerable".

"It costs £40,000 a week, we lose that every week to keep that zoo open and I don't think we can afford the financial costs either.

"This campaign will continue. We are already working on a proposal to try and offer an alternative to Belfast Zoo and that's really what needs to happen."

He called for children to be educated in the native species.

He added: "If you live in Augnacloy do you really need to see two lions sitting looking through a glass screen at you to know what a lion is? Of course you don't."

NISNTAC and councillor McGimpsey have been in talks to convert the zoo into a "genuine, climate-appropriate conservation site for Northern Ireland's priority species".

NISNTAC said in a statement: "Cave Hill is no place for lions, elephants, giraffes and many of the 150 species that are currently incarcerated there. 

"It serves no benefit for the animals as most are not endangered and those that are are not there for conservation, as this requires a breed-to-release mechanism.

"Since 2010 Belfast Zoo has released nine red squirrels under their 'conservation' program and this is nothing short of a mockery.  Nine red squirrels does not justify keeping hundreds of animals in inappropriate climates, living lives of suffering and misery.

"The zoo costs the Belfast ratepayer £2m per year yet the majority of the visitors come from outside the city.  Under our proposal, the conservation site for NI species will benefit the environment and the country and as such we would expect Stormont to take ownership and stop putting the responsibility on the Belfast residents to pay for a national project. 

"To this end, we are calling on Belfast City Council to stop wasting millions of pounds every year on a failed project that forces lives of suffering for the entertainment of the minority of people that are still entertained by animals in cages."

The group handed a letter of "protest and suggestion" about the future of Belfast Zoo to the delegates at the meeting.

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: "Belfast Zoo plays an active role in conservation. As a member of BIAZA (the British and Irish Associations of Zoos and Aquaria) and EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria), it takes part in more than 90 collaborative and global breeding programmes with zoos around the world and its animals are part of these collaborative breeding efforts. The Zoo also supports a number of in-situ conservation projects in the wild.

"The Zoo also has a native species group committed to the conservation of Northern Ireland’s very own native species. It works with a number of local partners and organisations on a range of projects including barns owls, bats, hedgehogs, bees and swifts. Specific examples of successful breeding programs within Belfast Zoo would be those of the Red Squirrel and White Tailed Sea Eagle which have been directly released into the wild.

"In relation to running costs, Belfast Zoo has been operating at a deficit of around £1 million per year over the past three years (based on £1.8 million income generated and £2.8 million of expenditure). Additional central support costs of around £1 million result in an overall deficit of approximately £2 million per year."

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