'No-deal' Brexit puts rare giraffes at risk too

By Clare Roth
An Okapi is pictured in its enclosure at Antwerp's zoo, Belgium, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

By Clare Roth

ANTWERP, Belgium (Reuters) - Amid all the hand-wringing from businessmen and politicians about potential risks from a 'no-deal' Brexit, zookeepers are worried too - especially for a group of rare forest giraffes.

Seventy-three "okapis" - an endangered species from the Democratic Republic of Congo with a brown body and zebra-like striped legs - live in zoos in the European Union where free movement rules underpin an inter-country breeding project.

So if Britain, which has 15 of them, exits the bloc without a transition deal, it would probably be cut out of the project, according to Sander Hofman, general curator of Antwerp Zoo in Belgium, who coordinates okapi relocation for reproduction.

"Brexit is very bad news for conservation breeding," he told Reuters at the zoo, as elephants munched behind him.

"Fifteen out of my 73 (okapis) are in the UK. You can imagine that if I need to remove these 15, it would be a big blow for my population but it would be even worse for the UK colleagues," he said.

In the EU, around 350 zoos are part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), which allows transport of animals throughout the bloc for breeding purposes.

Britain is a big player, with around 40 member zoos, including Chester, one of the largest in Europe.

But EAZA is advising zoos to move animals that need to be shipped to or from Britain as fast as possible in case of a no-deal Brexit that would require a laborious re-writing of rules to rejoin the breeding programme.

Prime Minister Theresa May was putting a stripped-down version of her Brexit deal to parliament on Friday in an attempt to break the impasse with uncertainty still over how, when of even if Britain will ever leave.

The rare forest giraffes in Britain are not the only animal affected, said Hofman, citing elephants.

"It's very difficult to plan an elephant transport. You can imagine how difficult it will be if you don't even know what paperwork you have to deal with, or what port you have to go through," he said. "I actually have no clue."


(Reporting by Clare Roth; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)