Northern Ireland news

Belfast Zoo defended in face of closure demands

Dr Thomas Kauffels, chair of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria
Paul Ainsworth

THE head of a European zoos organisation has come to the defence of Belfast Zoo following calls to shut the facility.

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey compared the attraction to a “Victorian peep show” and hit out at the £400,000 weekly cost of maintaining the Cave Hill site.

“You take animals from Sub-Saharan Africa and stick them on the hill at Bellevue where they sit and shiver while we gawk at them through the bars,” he said.

“The ratepayers cannot afford to keep it and the welfare of the animals needs to be called into question.”

Mr McGimpsey joined members of the Northern Ireland Says No To Animal Cruelty group in a protest at last week’s European Association of Zoos and Aquaria annual conference held in Belfast.

However, the association chairman Dr Thomas Kauffels defended the zoo.

“Belfast Zoo has a magnificent animal collection, and the city should be very proud of it,” he said.

“The animals are extremely well kept, and looked after by expert staff.”

Dr Kauffels, who is the director of Opel Zoo in Kronberg im Taunus, Germany, said Belfast Zoo also played a vital role in educating people about animals and conservation.

“It houses many species that remain endangered in the wild, and educates visitors about them and the need to protect them. Often, it is the only opportunity for people to see these animals other than on a screen.

“People often take zoos for granted, without understanding the role they play."

Belfast City Council has said no plans for closure are on the table.

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