Lions, elephants and other exotic animals could be phased out at Belfast Zoo

Belfast Zoo
Belfast Zoo

Long-term options for the future of loss-making Belfast Zoo include the removal of exotic animal species or the possible relocation of the facility.

Belfast City Council, which owns the 55 acre site at Cave Hill, is considering a number of key issues after concerns were raised last year about animal welfare at the zoo.

Belfast Zoo has been running at a deficit of �2m for the past three years.

Belfast Zoo has been running at a deficit of �2m for the past three years.

In a report, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (Eaza) stating that many of the enclosures were too small and it listed seven minor concerns about the welfare of animals.

The Council said at the time that work was under way to rectify the issues raised.

Coupled with these concerns, the council is also trying to determine how to stem the haemorrhaging of money from the zoo, which has been running at a deficit of £2m for the past three years.

It already been agreed that the closure of the facility and the status quo will not be pursued as options.

With that in mind, some of the key issues being considered by Belfast City Council include:

• whether to maintain the zoo on the existing site or relocate

• reduce the size and animal collection at the zoo

• reassign the zoo to focus on Northern European animals and native species.

• maintain in-house business operating model or agree an alternative model.

A number of potential business operating models were brought before members of the City Growth and Development Committee for consideration on Wednesday.

Some of these included transforming the zoo in-house, transferring to a council-owned company, and the creation of a private/public partnership.

Alderman Chris McGimpsey, deputy chair of the committee, wants to see the zoo transformed into a conservation area for native species.

The UUP man said the zoo – which opened in 1934 and is home to more than 1,000 animals – carries out “no real conservation work at present”.

He added: “I want to see all the exotic species phased out and a proper process of conservation put in place.

“In my view, we should only keep animals who are suited to the climate of Belfast, ie, Northern European species.

“Animals who belong in the Serengeti Plain are stuck on a hillside overlooking Belfast, where they live in misery while people stare at them.

“The counter argument to that of course is that people will not be interested in seeing those types of animals, but that takes us back to the central point; should the zoo be for entertainment or for conservation purposes?

“I think a lot of people have slowly started to realise that the zoo is untenable in its current form and radical change is needed.”

At a workshop on the zoo in December, councillors indicated priorities for change, including the need to get the balance right between animal welfare, research and Conservation, education and visitor experience.

A consultant’s report exploring the future options for the zoo is expected to be brought before council in the near future.