Brexit bureaucracy posing threat to endangered species, say zoo keepers

Transfers of animals for conservation schemes involving Ireland, Britain and EU plunged from 1,400 in 2019 to just 48 last year

Brexit red tape is posing an “existential threat” to years-long efforts to save several endangered animal species — including cheetahs, monkeys and cockatoos — from extinction, zoo keepers have said.

Transfers of animals for conservation programmes involving Ireland, Britain and the European Union have plunged from 1,400 in 2019 to just 48 last year, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) said.

The group is demanding that Taoiseach Micheál Martin and British prime minister Boris Johnson urgently broker a side deal to overcome “bureaucratic hurdles” which are making transfers impossible in cases as a result of the UK’s decision to pull out of the European Union.

Dublin Zoo, Fota Wildlife Park and Belfast Zoo, all members of BIAZA who have a leading role in international breeding programmes to protect endangered species, are signatories to a letter to Mr Martin and Mr Johnson urging action.

Schemes at risk include efforts to save the critically endangered citron crested cockatoo and the geoldi’s monkey at Dublin Zoo, cheetahs and lechwe — an antelope found in the wetlands of south central Africa — at Fota Wildlife Park in Cork, as well as colobus monkeys and francois langurs at Belfast Zoo.

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The zoos say they are struggling to cope with “incredible challenges” because of the “lack of alignment” between the EU and the UK, leading to “excessive and prohibitive regulations”.

Conservation relies heavily on the transfer of endangered species across international borders. Programmes are also in place to protect the survival of orangutans, lemurs and parrots.

Breeding programmes

In the letter to Mr Martin and Mr Johnson, the zoos warn the “excessive (and in some cases prohibitive) regulations” between Britain and the EU is “an existential threat to these carefully co-ordinated breeding programmes”.

“Not only are transfers between zoos in Britain and Ireland (and Northern Ireland) being prevented but animals can now no longer be transited through Britain on onward journeys into the EU which previously allowed for the fastest (and hence best possible welfare) journeys,” they wrote.

“This is completely undermining the conservation impact of BIAZA member zoos, in all these nations.”

Both the Taoiseach and prime minister have been asked to strike an EU-UK sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) agreement, which the zoos say could return the transfer of endangered zoo animals to levels seen prior to Brexit.

Nicky Needham, senior manager at BIAZA, said it was “hugely frustrating that the transfer of animals, from langur monkeys to cheetahs” has been made “so much more difficult following Brexit”.

He added: “Our zoos now face impossible hurdles and delays to partaking in international breeding programmes. We urge the Irish and UK governments to move to protect the world-leading conservation efforts of our zoos and aquariums.”

Other signatories to the letter include Ardmore Open Farm, Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium, Galway Atlantaquaria, Secret Valley Wildlife Park, Tayto Park, Tropical World Alcorns, Exploris Aquarium and WWT Castle Espie.

Brian Hutton

Brian Hutton is a freelance journalist and Irish Times contributor

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times