Northern Ireland news

Calls for temporary closure of Belfast Zoo to allow for safety assessments

One of the chimpanzees that got out of their enclosure at Belfast Zoo on Saturday

THERE were calls last night for the temporary closure of Belfast Zoo after chimpanzees escaped from their enclosure at the weekend.

Ulster Unionist councillor Chris McGimpsey said he believed the visitor attraction should be shut for two weeks to "enable a thorough appraisal to be undertaken to ensure the safety of animals and visitors".

The chimps escaped on Saturday after making an improvised ladder from tree branches.

Video footage showed one chimp jumping over an enclosure wall and walking along a path with members of the public, while other chimps sat on the wall and watched.

It is thought the trees in the chimps' enclosure had been weakened by recent storms.

The escape comes just weeks after a red panda went missing.

"The escape of five chimpanzees at Belfast Zoo was a potentially dangerous situation which could have ended with very serious consequences for the general public," said Mr McGimpsey.

"For some time now I have voiced my concerns at how Belfast Zoo is operated, and I have called for its permanent closure.

"At the very least, the zoo should now close for two weeks to enable a thorough appraisal to be undertaken so that the safety of animals and visitors can be ensured in the future."

A spokeswoman for Belfast City Council, which owns the zoo, last night said: "The health and safety of both visitors and animals at Belfast Zoo is paramount and following Saturday’s incident involving a chimpanzee briefly escaping its enclosure, council is instigating a review of animal security.

"This was a highly unusual event, despite the natural curious nature of chimpanzees, and council would like to reassure the public that Belfast Zoo is fully committed to providing a safe and enjoyable experience for all its visitors, and the zoo remains open for business as usual."

She added that zookeepers carry out a range of checks as part of their daily duties and "management are assessing whether the tree branch used in the escape fell after morning checks had been completed, having been weakened during high winds on Friday evening and into Saturday".

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