STUDENTS have voiced their concerns about a petting zoo event put on by a university union to help de-stress those taking exams.
The University of Portsmouth’s Students’ Union worked with Mill Farm Cottage Experience to provide a range of animals on a site near the union base, that students could pet.
The majority of the animals at the ‘Stressless Farm Experience’ (lambs, alpacas, rabbits, guinea pigs, and so on) were in pens, while two turkeys were housed in ‘a small cage’.
One student has also criticised union workers, who according to her, ‘treated protesters like criminals’.
Emma, a first year student at the university, said: ‘On the day, nine of us kept an eye on the animals, handed out leaflets, and dressed up.
‘The two turkeys in the small cage were very distressed, students were screaming at them and shoving phones in their faces, and they had no shelter from sun.
‘One of the ducklings was eating a cigarette butt in its pen and some animals had no access to water or food.
‘Guinea pigs and rabbits were put together, something the RSPCA advise against.
‘From 11am-3pm the animals were all subjected to being constantly touched and wound up by people.’
An RSPCA officer was called to the event. Emma said he confirmed the environment was unsuitable for the animals.
The charity told The News it had no concerns about the petting zoo in question, but said: ‘We urge anyone considering using the services of one of these businesses to think very carefully about the welfare of the animals used.’
Emma added: ‘I’m disappointed that despite getting in contact with the union in March to discuss the event we were ignored. The union promised to look into our concerns and get back to us but didn’t.
‘I managed to meet with the vice-president of activities two days before the event and told her everything we’d be doing to peacefully protest and no issues were raised.
‘But on the day we were treated like criminals. The union even called the police and said it was routine.’
James Belmonte, president of the Students’ Union, said the event was staged with an ‘accredited provider’.
He said: ‘The union supported the students who approached us in their right to protest and guidance was issued to them on the day.
‘More than 1,000 students attended the event, a one-in, one-out policy was in place.
‘It’s normal practice at events of this scale for university security to patrol the estate and for the police liaison officer to attend. Following the event we held an open meeting any student could attend. Nobody did.’