Zoos and aquariums across the island of Ireland have written to Taoiseach Micheál Martin and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning of an "existential threat" to conservational breeding programmes.

This is due to ongoing post-Brexit red tape on the movement of animals, they say. Last year just 48 animal transfers between EU and UK zoos took place, compared to 1,400 in 2019.

The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) noted in the letter: "There are species that now only exist in the dedicated care of zoos and aquariums and for whom cross-border movements are critical to their ongoing survival.

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

It is urging the Irish and UK governments to "work collaboratively with the European Commission in the name of species conservation".

Zoos are advocating for a high level Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement for the movement of the animals between Britain and EU Member States, including Ireland and Northern Ireland.

BIAZA Senior Manager Nicky Needham explained: "Import/export systems between Ireland, Britain and the European Union are now so poorly aligned that there are vast amounts of red tape just to get a single animal across."

A cheetah cub in Fota Wildlife Park

Members of BIAZA include Dublin Zoo, Fota Wildlife and Belfast Zoo, as well as Dingle Aquarium.

Dublin Zoo Chief Executive Christoph Schwitzer said: "It is imperative that the UK and European Commission find a solution so that good zoos and aquariums can continue their work saving species from extinction."

Ms Needham added: "It is hugely frustrating that the transfer of animals, from langur monkeys to cheetahs has been made so much more difficult following Brexit."

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland there were also issues around food and other essential supplies for zoo animals which are more difficult to import.

"This now takes longer and adds a lot of cost to the process."

She said that while animals are not in danger, what is in danger is the ability to maintain the best possible genetic diversity within the conservation breeding programmes.

"Our zoos now face impossible hurdles and delays to partaking in international breeding programmes."

Breeding programmes managed from Ireland include critically endangered citron crested cockatoo and the Geoldi's monkey and these are coordinated from Dublin Zoo.

The citron crested cockatoo is critically endangered

Other species include Colobus monkeys and François langurs in Belfast Zoo as well as cheetah and lechwe, coordinated from Fota Wildlife Park.

Fota Wildlife Park Director Sean McKeown said its cheetah breeding programme is constrained by time and he hopes restrictions due to Brexit are be solved quickly.

"Cheetah have a very short breeding lifespan - from the age of two and half years to nine years - so a delay of two years, which is what we have been experiencing, is about a third of that breeding lifespan."

He said the EU and UK "urgently need to come to an agreement around a programme similar to what existed before Brexit.

"This allowed us to transfer animals from recognised, registered and approved zoos without much of the bureaucracy and regulations that occur currently."