Belfast Telegraph

'Someone could have been injured, or worse' - calls for safety review at Belfast Zoo following chimpanzee escapes

There have been calls for action after a number of chimpanzees escaped from their enclosure at Belfast Zoo on Saturday.

The Chimpanzees used tree branches to scale the wall of their enclosure, with one walking along a path being used by members of the public.

Holywood man Dean McFaul was beside the enclosure with his family and said that at one point a chimpanzee was sitting "right beside my foot".

Mr McFaul said that the animals were not aggressive and he was not concerned for his safety at any stage. 

However, Green Party leader Claire Bailey said that it was lucky no-one was hurt in the incident.

"I've seen videos of the escape and it shows it was cool, calm and well executed," she said.

"We need to really start looking at what's going on at Belfast Zoo.

"I would be keen to meet up with the zoo and have these conversations."

Former Lord Mayor of Belfast Nuala McAllister called for an urgent review into safety measures at  the zoo following the second breakout of the year.

Last month red panda Amber made her escape after two electricity fences failed at the zoo.

She was eventually found safe and well in Collinbridge, a residential area within a mile of the zoo's grounds.

Belfast Zoo spokesperson Alan Cairns said that the chimpanzees had been able to escape because the trees in their enclosure had been damaged by recent stormy weather.

He said they only remained outside their enclosure for a short time before returning as they were "quite cowardly".

Alliance Party councillor Mrs McAllister said someone could have been seriously injured in the incident.

“The Council has a duty of care around the welfare of animals at the zoo but we also need to ensure the safety at all times of the public. This incident could have easily resulted in an injury or worse – while chimps are intelligent creatures, they have been known to attack people," she said.

“This is the second escape from the zoo this year and it is only February. While Belfast Zoo carries out good work in terms of conservation and breeding programmes, that is simply not good enough and we need to ensure it doesn’t happen again."

North Belfast SDLP representative Heather Wilson said that councillors from her party would be raising the safety issue at an upcoming council meeting.

She called for improvements and investments in the zoo to prevent such incidents in future.

"The zoo is an excellent asset to Belfast and attracts thousands of visitors to the North of our city each year," Ms Wilson said.

"It is vital the future of Belfast Zoo is addressed at the next Belfast City Council meeting and I have been in contact with SDLP colleagues to ensure that is the case."

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