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Brexit and the aardarks: Shepreth Wildlife Park reveals impact on animal movements

A South Cambridgeshire wildlife park rushed through an intake of animals ahead of the original Brexit D-Day due to concerns over longer transportation times once the UK leaves the EU.

Rebecca Willers reveals how Shepreth Wildlife Park moved swiftly to get their animal intake done ahead of Brexit deadline. Picture: Keith Heppell. (9198323)
Rebecca Willers reveals how Shepreth Wildlife Park moved swiftly to get their animal intake done ahead of Brexit deadline. Picture: Keith Heppell. (9198323)

Shepreth Wildlife Park moved swiftly to get a host of European animals into the park ahead of the March 29 Brexit deadline, since extended to October.

Fears over the longer journeys for animals if a ‘No deal’ Brexit happens sparked the earlier-than-normal planning but wildlife park director Rebecca Willers was delighted to have achieved it all with a day to spare.

The park, which attracted the highest number of visitors in its entire history on Good Friday, welcomed a number of new European additions including an aardvark and a red panda.

Ms Willers said: “What happens in the zoo world is that we don’t just take animals when we want them, they are all part of the international breeding programmes.

“So, once a year you will get what is called a recommendation from a breeding co-ordinator, who co-ordinates one species.

A red panda. Picture: Paul Brackley
A red panda. Picture: Paul Brackley

“It is like genetic pairing for the best matches of animals, for the want of a better expression. So back in October, November, December and January, we were receiving recommendations for animals and these were coming from Belgium, Prague, France and all over.

“We didn’t want to miss any breeding seasons as some animals only breed at certain times of the year, and we didn’t want a complication of bringing them in after Brexit and then having delays.

“So we rushed to get everything through before March 29 and literally the last one came in on March 28. It included an aardvark from Prague, a red panda from France, a pygmy slow loris from Poland, a wolf and hornbill from Belgium.

“What we thought was going to happen after March 29 was that our animal transporters in England would lose their licences because they are EU licences.

“This means, to export or import animals from Europe, we will have to go through border inspection ports and will lose some of the ports we now use.

“The nearest one for us will be Harwich, which only goes to Holland.

“So, instead of going from Calais to Dover, we now have to add on all that extra journey time of nearly 18 hours.

“That is a long time for an animal to be in an enclosed crate in a vehicle. That was the reason we got everything in.

An aardvark
An aardvark

“We prefer to use land because we can monitor the animals. We cannot monitor them if we do it by air.

“It is all adding to the cost as well. We are concerned there will be a welfare implication for animals being transported by road because of that extra time.

“We work with Europe on breeding programmes and that has to carry on – it absolutely has to.

“From an economic point, we have a view high number of European visitors they are coming into Cambridge and we are a nice easy attraction to get to.

“So we could lose that tourism trade we’ve had. We also train students and they could be missing out on the chance to learn because we don’t know about the visa situation.”

As well as the good news in terms of getting all the animal additions in a head of the original Bexit leaving date, Easter set about paying off some of the big bills associated with the early work.

Rebecca said: “It has been fantastic. Good Friday was unprecedented and the best day we’ve had in our entire history.”

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