As an animal lover, my annual days out around Northern Ireland feature at least one trip to Belfast Zoo. Despite being a more child and family-orientated attraction, there is no shame in a fully-grown adult getting excited at seeing the expanding plumes of the peacock or the cute faces of the marmosets.
Belfast Zoo is home to well over 1,000 animals and 140 different species, the majority of which are in danger in their natural habitat. Nestled into the Cave Hill and enjoying commanding views over Belfast, you can take your day out at the zoo to new heights.
And this year it is celebrating its 75th birthday, so even if you have been before, make time to pay a return visit. There are a host of animals living at the zoo, including meerkats, porcupines, flamingos, bears, boas, turtles and the cute colobus monkeys. Kangaroos, spider monkeys, owls, eagles, otters, penguins, pelicans, zebras, ostriches and the marmosets also feature at the zoo. And towering overhead are the giraffes and elephants in the enclosure situated just past the Floral Hall.
According to the Belfast Zoo website, a total of 28 giraffes have been born there since 1996, including recent arrivals Cotton, Sallagh and Moon. Neja arrived from Altburg Zoo in Denmark in 2008. The walkthough rainforest house mimics the tropical landscape for the animals and in there you can find the wonderful sloths and pigeons. On my last visit I was quite taken by the gorillas – if you watch them closely, you’ll see many of their ‘human’ traits. But everyone’s favourite undoubtedly has to be the lion. He sits there majestically on his throne, with his menacing stare. And who could forget the fossas and a favourite of mine – the Rodrigues fruit bats?
Make sure, if you have children, you pay a visit to the sea lion enclosure during feeding time (the schedule is available on the zoo website). The little ones can watch as the sea lions catch the fish thrown to them by the zookeepers. You can get up close to many of the animals and all credit goes to the staff for the upkeep and maintenance.
Indeed animal care and conservation projects are important parts of the zoo’s remit – you can find out more about the programmes when you visit. The zoo certainly delivers on the excitement front and ticks all the boxes for a great day out. On a clear day the views over Belfast alone are worth the entrance fee. There are also a range of additional facilities, all of which are appropriately named, in-keeping with the animal theme – the Ark Café and Mountain Tea House provide refreshments and a place to rest your weary feet, while the Zoovenir Shop stocks everything from pencils to fluffy animals (again, not solely aimed at grown-ups! Check the opening times by contacting Belfast Zoo or visiting the website www.belfastzoo.co.uk.