Belfast Telegraph

Union hits out at councillor's 'appalling' comments after giraffe deaths at Belfast Zoo

By Andrew Madden

The union representing staff at Belfast Zoo has hit out at the "appalling" comments made by a councillor after the deaths of three giraffes at the facility last year.

Belfast Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey previously raised concerns about the fatalities after a zoo worker 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 and a council spokeswoman said all three incidents were investigated by an independent vet.

Mr McGimpsey said he raised the matter with the council's director of city and neighbourhood services, Nigel Grimshaw, who said he knew "absolutely nothing" about the deaths.

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 said.

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

In a statement on Friday, Alan Perry, organiser of GMB, who represent Belfast Zoo staff, hit out at the comments.

“We are totally appalled that anyone would think that the deaths were hidden from anyone and would defend the integrity and professionalism of our members and staff," he said.

“What Councillor McGimpsey fails to acknowledge or indeed understand is the immense pride staff have in their work. Keepers and workers at the zoo are greatly saddened and full of grief when any animal in their care passes away.

“Our members are totally appalled that any blame would be apportioned to them and deeply resentful of any comments suggesting that any animals in their care are neglected.

“For our members in Belfast Zoo it is not just a job but a lifelong vocational role that they deliver with the utmost professionalism and dedication and GMB is proud of them. “

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Chris McGimpsey

In response, Mr McGimpsey said: "Time and time again I have stressed the commitment of the staff and their professionalism."

Last week, a council spokeswoman said a report detailing the deaths of the three giraffes in 2018 would be presented to the council's city growth and regeneration committee.

"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 inspections under their animal husbandry and welfare remit," she said.

"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."

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