Northern Ireland

Belfast Zoo: UUP's Chris McGimpsey urges boycott over animal welfare concerns

Belfast Zoo Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Belfast Zoo was the subject of a critical assessment from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (Eaza) but argues that it plays a vital role in conservation work

A Belfast councillor has urged the public to stay away from Belfast Zoo until it addresses criticism of the conditions in which it keeps animals.

Chris McGimpsey made his remarks after the zoo was criticised by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (Eaza).

Eaza found many of the enclosures were too small and it listed seven minor concerns about the welfare of animals.

Belfast City Council, which owns the zoo, has said work is already under way to rectify the issues Eaza has raised.

The European body's findings were revealed earlier this week by the Belfast Telegraph.

'Severe concerns'

Mr McGimpsey, an Ulster Unionist councillor in the city, is an animal rights activist and a long-time critic of zoos.

Speaking on the BBC's Nolan Show on Wednesday night, he said: "I think people should stay away until we're confident that the animals are being kept in proper husbandry conditions."

Image caption Ulster Unionist Party councillor Chris McGimpsey has been a long-time critic of zoos

He said the council had sought accreditation from Eaza but it had responded with a long list of "very severe concerns" about the operation of Belfast Zoo.

"They talk about the sea lions being kept in fresh water instead of salt water; they talk about sea lions being kept in water that is unclean and they talk about them being kept in a compound that is not deep enough."

Mr McGimpsey, added: "Elephants, in their natural environment, maraud in their lives over 1,000 sq km; [247,100 acres]. Elephants in Belfast Zoo have two thirds of an acre."

Eaza's letter to the council also said the buildings where lemurs are kept are far too small and that rabbits and reptiles are not housed in acceptable conditions.

It raised concerns about the "unacceptable" level of aggression between Andean bears and the "questionable welfare" of the male.

Mr McGimpsey claimed the facility was "not up to standard" and was "not something that Belfast City Council can be proud of".

However, he added that he hoped the improvement works would be completed by April next year.

It is not the first time the UUP councillor has publicly criticised Belfast Zoo.

In September, he joined calls for the "Victorian peep show" to be shut down.

He said it should be replaced with a conservation area for priority species that are native to Northern Ireland.

Belfast Zoo's website says that it plays a "vital role in conservation work by taking part in breeding programmes that aim to boost the numbers of endangered animals".

It is currently taking part in more than 90 breeding programmes.