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Belfast zoo death rates revealed: penguins, kangaroo and a sea lion among dead

Causes include cancer, blood infections and even self-inflicted injuries

Among the dead was a capybara, the largest rodent in the world, which passed away not long after being born.
Among the dead was a capybara, the largest rodent in the world, which passed away not long after being born.

By Christopher Woodhouse

Nearly 50 animals died at Belfast zoo last year from the likes of cancer, blood infections and even self-inflicted injuries, Sunday Life can reveal.

Among those which passed away in 2018 were penguins, a kangaroo, a sea lion, an endangered fruit bat and two southern pudus - the world's smallest type of deer.

The figures supplied by the zoo's operator Belfast City Council also include the three giraffes which died last year and were the subject of a special report to a council committee.

It has lead to renewed calls for the zoo, which costs around £2 million a year to run, to be closed and turned into a conservation centre.

From the zoo population of 619 animals four Gentoo penguins died, the first two from peritonitis which is an inflammation of the lining which covers organs including the liver and kidneys.

The third was killed by a fungal infection in its lungs while the fourth died from a rupture of the wall of the heart.

Also felled by illness were two of the world's smallest variety of deer - the Southern Pudu - native to Chile and Argentina.

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One died from "non-specific renal changes" to its kidneys while the other was killed by the rare lung disease necrotising bronchopneumonia.

In July 2017, the zoo celebrated the birth of a Southern Pudu to father Mr Tumnus and mother Susan.

The birth was welcomed as "massively important" to the zoo and the European breeding programme.

Special report: Three giraffes were among the animals which died at Belfast zoo in 2018.
Special report: Three giraffes were among the animals which died at Belfast zoo in 2018.

A red squirrel was the only death recorded as being accidental after dying due to "injury caused by animal getting itself trapped whilst breaking a drain cover".

The zoo has a captive breeding programme to help increase numbers of the species in Northern Ireland which has been decimated by the arrival of the larger grey squirrel.

Cancer claimed the life of one of the zoo's colony of Californian sea lions while a lemur was killed by "haemorrhagic enteritis", a disease of the spleen.

One of the zoo's endangered Rodrigues fruit bats, also known as Rodrigues flying fox, died from circulatory failure.

In April last year nine of the bats, which are now only found on one island in the Indian Ocean, were transferred from Chester zoo to Belfast zoo.

One of the zoo's population of 13 capybaras, the largest type of rodent in the world, passed away not long after being born.

According to the zoo website the Central and South American natives live in an enclosure with the giant anteater and Darwin's rhea, a large flightless bird also from South America.

Another entry lists a red kangaroo as having died after "problems with jaw".

A critically endangered cotton-topped tamarin, a type of South American monkey, is listed as having died from "unknown causes".

There are estimated to be fewer than 2,000 left in the wild with the species at high risk of extinction.

A post mortem is carried out on each animal to determine the cause of death, though not on the smallest of creatures such as bees and snails.

Meanwhile, three animals died from old age, namely a crowned sifaka which is a type of endangered lemur from Madagascar, a Malayan tapir - also endangered - and a fossa which is a "vulnerable" cat-like mammal also from Madagascar.

Commenting on the fatalities at the zoo, a council spokeswoman said: "Belfast Zoo is home to 619 animals of 117 species and is managed and operated in line with licensing and legislative requirements.

"As with any similar facility the number of animals included within the collection can fluctuate as a result of births, deaths, acquisitions, transfer to other facilities. Many of the medical conditions which have caused the deaths of animals at Belfast Zoo would also occur in animals' natural habitat."

Reacting to the figures Ulster Unionist Alderman Chris McGimpsey branded the numbers "disgraceful".

"We are losing about eight per cent of our animals per year," he told Sunday Life.

"People have got to accept that zoos have had their day, their day is gone, we need to move on and the best way to move on would be to set up a conservation centre there, the way they have in may other zoos throughout Europe.

"I despair, I have been at this now for five years."

He added: "I have demanded we get quarterly reports which include the entire stock take of the zoo and also anything acquired and anything that died."

cwoodhouse@sundaylife.co.uk

Twitter: @MrCWoodhouse

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