By Bejay Browne
FOLLOWING accusations by the Green party that Paphos zoo is operating illegally, the state veterinary services have confirmed that it is fully licensed to function as a zoo, even though it might not have full planning permission.
According to Peyia councillor Linda Leblanc, a green party member, the zoo doesn’t have planning permission to operate as such.
“It doesn’t have planning permission for a zoo, only for an ‘exotic bird park’ and therefore on that basis it is illegal,” she said.
The dispute has become increasingly heated since the recent arrival of two elephants at Paphos zoo, a move vehemently opposed by the Greens and the recently formed Animal Party.
Zoo owner, Christos Christoforou, insists he has all of the relevant licences and permits and said trouble is being caused by a small number of people who are against the idea of zoos in general.
Christoforou said that from the outset he had always planned to establish the premises as a zoo. He said that he registered with the government as a bird and animal park, and at the park’s opening, which was undertaken by a government minister, giraffes, zebras, monkeys and the tortoises, were already there.
Christoforou said he applied for a planning permit for a park for birds and animals, and noted that the confusion may lie with the municipality, which may have misunderstood the meaning of the initial wording of the application.
“I am licensed as far as I’m concerned, and it’s not my problem if someone at the municipality planning department didn’t understand the words on the application. We have also just spent a year in getting an ‘institute’ status, which we now have.”
Leblanc said that according to Peyia’s chief engineer, the paperwork confirms the planning permission is only for an exotic bird park.
“Strangely, despite not having the required planning permission, he was granted a licence for a zoological park by the relevant department,” she said.
Christodoulos Pipis, acting director of the state veterinary services, the responsible government department for issuing zoo licences, said that planning permission is not required for them to issue a valid licence and that he couldn’t comment on whether the zoo had planning permission or not.
“We are not in a position to confirm a statement regarding planning permits, as this does not fall within our area of competency,” he said. “The veterinary services do not demand a planning permit in order to license a zoo.”
Pipis said that the zoo’s operation licence has been renewed for another five years.
“The violation of his obligations under the town planning legislation does not imply abolition of the zoo licence which is issued under a different law,” he said.
Pipis said that the veterinary services ensure that the provisions of the European Union directive 1999/22/EEC are met in order for a zoo to acquire the operation licence and permit.
“Recently, the particular zoo has also been assigned an ‘approved organisation’ licence by the Veterinary Services, concerning animal health requirements according to Directive 92/65/EEC.”
But Leblanc said that Green MP George Perdikis has now raised the issue of the zoo’s status in an official letter to parliament, requesting information on the issue.
“He has also written to the mayor of Peyia and the council asking what measures we are planning to take regarding the status of the zoo, as the Greens believe it doesn’t have planning permission.”
She warned that if the zoo has built a structure which doesn’t comply with the original planning permit, Peyia’s planning department would “never approve it”.
She said that in March 2014, Christoforou had asked whether a building permit was required for him to build metal cages.
“It was decided that the matter needed to be studied within the context of granting a planning permit cover note for change of use from a bird park to a zoological park, in relation to the conditions of the original planning permit granted in 2000.”
She said that a letter was sent to Christoforou in June 2014, pointing out the obligation to submit an application to secure planning approval. He was reminded that his permit only covered birds and a small number of fawns.
“The permit specifically states that under no circumstances were other species allowed,” she said.
The zoo owner said that he receives hundreds of letters from happy visitors who love the zoo experience and recent problems are down to politicians, who are merely trying to get votes, and don’t understand the subject of animals at all.
“This was apparent when the Animal Party said that Paphos is too humid for the elephants, what nonsense. Whatever I do, they will always criticise me.”
The Animal Party had argued that elephants are heterothermic animals which regulate their body temperature by storing heat during daytime and gradually losing it during the cool of the night and needed the right conditions to do so. They said that Paphos is a very humid and the elephants might not be able to cool off properly.
“The elephants are from Bangladesh where it is far more humid than Paphos, the party is showing they are ignorant and giving incorrect information,” Christoforou had argued at the time.
Christoforou said that he and his son, who is training to be a vet, are at the zoo from 6am until 11pm seven days a week, because they are dedicated to their work.
“Any money we make we invest in new attractions because it makes us happy and many other people as well. I invite the politicians to come and visit the zoo and see the animals, they are not skinny or unhealthy, they are well fed, in good health and well looked after.”
But that is beside the point as far as Leblanc is concerned. She said that at the very least, the government services should not grant further licences until the establishment complies fully with planning and other laws.
“I invite Mr Christoforou to attend Peyia municipality and bring with him all of the relevant permits, including the planning permit which he says he has, as I would like to see them,” she said.