A man who ran a controversial pet shop in Ballymena has been cleared of acquiring and displaying an iguana for commercial purposes.
Richard Potter (34), of Hollow Lane, Cloughmills, had denied the two charges he faced relating to the eight year-old, five-feet long, ‘Rhinoceros Iguana’, in relation to the Control of Trade in Endangered Species regulations.
It was alleged the offences were committed on a date unknown between January 1, 2013 and January 16, 2016.
Mr Potter contested the charges and at Ballymena Magistrates Court on Thursday afternoon the case against him was dismissed.
He called the iguana ‘Mr Kipling’ after a lizard in the children’s tv show ‘Jessie’.
Alan Roberts of the National Wildlife Crime Unit told the court that when Jungle World closed last year he was made aware of animals still on the premises including an iguana which was roaming free around the former shop unit.
He said a certificate is needed for iguanas to be used for commercial purposes and he noted that Mr Potter had previously tried to get such a certificate but it was refused to him and in the absence of that it was illegal to use the animal commercially.
Mr Roberts said there were pictures of an iguana on a Facebook page with links to Jungle World and he said the animal was being used as a “lure” to bring people to the shop.
However, defence barrister Neil Moore said when the shop closed the animals were re-homed after administrators were called in but that Mr Potter asked that Mr Kipling not be taken away as he was his “pet”.
Mr Moore said there was no evidence it was being used as a commercial lure.
Mr Potter told the court he had a fascination with exotic animals and his shop was one of only three of its kind in Northern Ireland.
He said he “rescued” many of the animals and obtained Mr Kipling from Essex but he said he had “never” used the lizard commercially; exhibited it or offered it for sale.
He said he did not take money from people wanting to see Mr Kipling who was kept in a private area at the shop.
“These animals are very intelligent and they become very like dogs in the iguana world”, he said.
Mr Potter said he had kept Mr Kipling as a pet at his home but because the lizard was getting treatment and was in a confined space he decided to leave him at the shop because the family had a new born and were moving house.
He said friends would come to the shop to buy pet food and give Mr Kipling treats.
District Judge Peter King said the iguana probably was a “lure” but as he was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt he dismissed the case against Mr Potter.
Afterwards when asked for his reaction Mr Potter replied: “Brilliant, absolutely fantastic.”
He added: “Hopefully now we can get Mr Kipling back where he belongs, in my ownership.”
Mr Kipling is eight years old and he is a “fantastic free-roaming lizard”.
He added: “They make fantastic pets as long as you bring them up the right way and everybody loves them and the kids love him and we have been fighting this case.”
Mr Potter said Mr Kipling had become aggressive at one stage only because he was under treatment and was in a confined area and because of a new child and with them moving house he left the lizard in the shop.
“He was five ft long. We called him Mr Kipling after the lizard in Jessie from Disney Channel because he looks very similar.”
Mr Potter said he became separated from his “pet” after his assets were seized so quickly last year and because the receivers saw the iguana in the shop if he had taken him from the premises at the time he could have been accused of theft.
“He is residing in a zoo. When he was seized he was taken to the only exotic holding facility in the UK which is at Heathrow pending the investigation which ended today. We now hope to get him back.”
Mr Potter says his partner currently runs a pet shop near Cloughmills.
‘Jungle World’ - which was based on Linenhall Street on the fringes of Ballymena town centre - had been in the news on a number of occasions.
It was an exotic pet shop and also had a small ‘zoo’ out the back.
Among the inhabitants of the premises were a six-foot alligator, a four-foot crocodile, an 18ft python and spider monkeys called Winston and Lillie.
Several years ago Ballymena Borough Council took a court case after a local woman had two of her fingers bitten off by Winston as she was feeding him nuts.
Mr Potter was also convicted of four counts of trading in endangered species after he was arrested by police during an undercover sting while trying to sell four lemurs in a Banbridge car park in 2010.
He was fined £400, but said it was as a result of a missing microchip.
In 2014, a raccoon - nicknamed ‘Rab’ in the media - escaped from Jungle World before being found around 30 miles away in Ballycastle and the story made headlines far and wide.