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Belfast Zoo Review of Belfast Zoo and Its Current Situation

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by squirrelmonkey, 6 Sep 2018.

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  1. squirrelmonkey

    squirrelmonkey Well-Known Member

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    I have visited Belfast Zoo quite a bit recently so I thought I might as well give a review of the Zoo especially since all that has happened to it in the last few years.

    Belfast Zoo used to be one of the best priced Zoos in the UK but over the last few years the price has dramatically increased. Currently an adult is £13.50, Children are £6.75, and a Family Ticket is £36.75. Only about 5 years ago, I remember a Family Ticket being close to £21. The extreme bump in price can be linked to the Zoos financial issues. In 2015, there was the call by some councillors to close down Belfast Zoo as "Our Zoo is a hole in the Bucket and we cannot continue to pour water into it". The annual loses for that year was £865,000, but some claimed that it was actually much higher in excess of a million. Then in 2016, Belfast was hit badly by the EAZA report. I will not go into too much detail but I have linked an article to the whole situation below.
    Belfast zoo hit by damning report by international accreditation body EAZA - BelfastTelegraph.co.uk
    Due to the Financial issues and bad press, Belfast has began to plan on phasing out some of the larger animals, and instead focusing on the smaller animals and the current situations of some of the enclosures.

    When you first enter the Zoo through the new Entrance built in 2009, there is a new enclosure for Irish Black Honeybee showing the inside of a hive. On past this enclosure you turn left towards the Malayan Tapir enclosure. In the past this section (previously known as the avenue) used to also hold Nile Lechwe, Eastern Bongo, Blesbok, and Giant Anteater, however, this whole area is now closed. The close proximity to the Road and the steep gradient playing a factor. The Malayan Tapir are also very rarely seen. The only time I have seen them in 20+ visits is when they are being fed. This section of the Zoo could have great potential but the funds just aren't there to make it happen.
    The Lower middle part of the Zoo is centred around the small Lake. To get to it you walk past the Floral Hall. This marvellous building has been left to rot away, and a fence has been placed around it with big posters about the animals at the Zoo. Its similar to Edinburgh Zoo with the once carnivore row, just posters and signs. Near the Lake is the standard Farm which also has some subpar aviaries for Barn Owls. Beside the Farm is the recently renovated Reptile house. It is a vast improvement and has a few interesting species, such as Fijian Banded and Utila Iguana. One of the newest enclosures in this area is the Red Squirrel Nook, which is one of my favourite enclosures. It has been a massive conservation success with Squirrels regularly being released into different parts of N.I. Next to the squirrels is the Lemur exhibit home to Black and White Ruffed Lemurs. In the past this exhibit held multiple different species. I remember Red Ruffed, Black and Whited Ruffed and Belted all together along with some wallabies. Around the Lake there is good enclosures for both Moloch Gibbon, Chilean Flamingos, Blesbok, as well as a South American Exhibit for Darwin's Rhea, A 15 strong group of Capybara and Giant Anteater. This is a very good enclosure, that has been created by joining three previous enclosures together. During my latest visit Last Month (August), the Capybaras were all diving and playing in the water. It was great and the water is right up against the fence which makes for great viewing. In the past those enclosures also held Sitatunga, and other antelope. The final exhibit is the famous Spider Monkey exhibit, which has been improved by connecting their Island to the Island in the centre of the Lake that was previously just for waterfowl.
    Overall this Lower part of the Zoo, despite losing numerous species of Antelope, I feel has improved over the last few years.

    Belfast Zoo is probably one of the toughest gradient Zoos in the UK (I would say it is worse than Edinburgh). As you start to make your way up the Hill you walk past the Andean/Spectacled Bear enclosure. This is the previous Polar Bear enclosure, and the large concrete pit is not really suited for these bears. You then walk past the Savannah and Asian Elephant exhibit which are two semi-circles that make a circle loop. The Savannah is home to a large herd of Rothschild Giraffes, Ostrich and Grant's Zebra. Both these exhibits are on the small side. The elephants are the worse, however, Belfast is a retirement home and one of the elephants has bad mental problems. You can see the star on its side from the logging company. The elephant enclosure is 2/3 of an acre. I believe the elephants are not going to be replaced in the future. The highlight in this area is the Visayan Warty Pigs that occupy the old Bacterian Camel enclosure. There is also an enclosure for everyone's favourite Meerkats that they use to share with a Crested Porcupine.

    The next part of the Zoo is the Monkey Walk and this definitely the best part of the Zoo.It consists of 6 monkey enclosures that bring you along a loop, as well as the new Marmoset and Tarmarin complex built this year. The 6 monkey enclosures are currently home to Venezuelan Howler Monkey, Southern Pudu, Southern Screamer, Crowned Lemur, Red Backed Bearded Saki, Goodfellow's Tree Kangaroo, Crowned Sifaka and Francois Langur. As their is indoor viewing, the only animal that may not be seen is the Sifaka, but they are normally out. Seeing the SIfaka leap from pole to pole is quite the sight. In the last 10 years it also held Javan Brown Langur, Purple-Faced Langur, and Verreaux's Sifaka. Belfast Zoo has definitely got a quite few nice rarities in its collection past and present. The new Marmoset and Tamarin complex includes Golden Lion Tamarin, Pied Tamarin, Emperor Tamarin, Cotton Top Tamarin, Common Marmoset and Red Titi Monkey. The complex is made up of about 3 enclosures, which each enclosure having two separate outdoor cages. The new development is a great improvement on the old enclosures with far better viewing of the animals.

    As you begin to get closer to the top of the Hill you walk past the Chimpanzee and Western Lowland Gorilla enclosures. They may be beginning to show some age, and be a bit bare, but the animals are normally up close to the glass by the houses which gives excellent viewing of these apes. Belfast has bred both of these animals in the last 5 years. To the right of the apes is two netted and heavily planted exhibits for Fossa and Temminck's Golden Cat. These are definitely two highlights of the collection. It was originally planned for Clouded Leopards to be kept and while being held off-show in the old zoo they bred but unfortunately the male killed the female. It was then decided to change from Clouded Leopards to the Golden Cat.
    On past the Gorillas is the large enclosure for Black and White Colobus Monkey which used to be home to the Lion-Tailed Macaque. In 2013, six of the Lion-Tailed Macaques escaped and then in 2015, two of them escaped again. Here's a video of when they escaped in 2013:

    The next enclosure is the old Cheetah enclosure that had been revamped with new fencing in 2016 and is now home to the Maned Wolf. This enclosure is a bit of the small side. Next to it is a relatively new White-Nosed Coati exhibit which is nice and lush and on then there is the enclosure for a small herd of Vicuna. At the very top of the Zoo is the Sun Bear enclosure which is a good enclosure and the use of concrete pipes helped to create different levels for the bears. Beside this enclosure is the old RRH enclosure which on my last visit was home to a single Giant Anteater. I highly suspect in the future this will be home to RRH again or a different hog species. The final enclosure at the top of the Hill is a ring tailed Lemur exhibit which had had new indoor housing built attached to the viewing window. From the top of the Zoo their is great views right across Belfast. Their is also a War Memorial for when a plane crashed into the side of Cavehill.

    As you come down the Hill there is a rather hilly enclosure for Sumatran Tigers. It is not the best but more than adequate. There is then the enclosure for a large prickle of Cape Porcupines which used to be home to the African Hunting Dogs and more recently a single Striped Hyena. It is definitely more suited to the Porcupines as it lacks enough space for a large predator. The Barbary Lion enclosure is on the small side. I am not sure what is going to happen to the Tigers and Lions at the Zoo. I have a feeling that they might be phased out but they are definitely a big crowd drawer. The old maned wolf enclosure, beside the lions, has been netted over and turned into an aviary for Sacred Ibis. On the corner is the Red Panda exhibit which is probably one of the best I have seen. There is a huge tree in the centre of the exhibit and the pandas can access all of it. Viewing is not a problem as the Pandas on most of my visits are normally very active climbing around.
    There is then mediocre enclosures for penguins and the California Sea Lions. Both of the exhibits are showing signs of age and have poor underwater viewing. At the time when they were built, both exhibits had won awards. Belfast has Gentoo and Rockhopper Penguins. To the left of these is a large aviary for White-Tailed Sea Eagle. They had the first successful captive breeding in the UK in 2004, and "Hali" was released into the wild in Israel. Beside the Eagles is the otter enclosure. It has another rarity the Spot-necked Otter. It and Bioparc Valencia are the only places in Europe that its home to. Belfast used to keep Short-Clawed Otter and Smooth-Coated Otter.

    The final section is the Bird Park and Rainforest House. The Bird Park boasts a great collection of birds, especially Cockatoos. There is Citron-Crested, Molucaan, Palm, Red-Tailed, and White-Tailed Cockatoos to name a few. The Bird Park is two rows of well planted aviaries back to back, as well as a few aviaries to the side. The Rainforest House was built in 2008 and is home to a group of Rodriguez Flying Fox, Linne's Two Toed Sloth and a collection of birds. It is well planted and the Sloth is always close to the path. Once you leave the Rainforest House there is an empty enclosure that until last month housed the Red Kangaroos. Next to this is the Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs, and then there is a group of escapees on the grass along the back/side of the Floral Hall. There used to be a Large Walk-Through Bird Aviary that was home to various Ibis and Little Egret. Unfortunately this closed about 6 or 7 years ago due to Health and Safety issues which was a real shame.

    Overall Belfast Zoo is home to a great collection of animals and has some of the best scenic views of any Zoo in the UK. There is real stand out enclosure or exhibit but there is no real bad enclosures apart from the Andean Bears which is an issue with their indoor housing. Belfast Zoo over the last couple of years has began to transition towards the smaller animals, expanding its reptile collection, new exhibits for Marmosets and Tamarins and a Red Squirrel Breeding Programme. Will this mean a loss of the ABC animals in the future, only time will tell.

    Edit: I tried to post a picture of a map from 2006/2007 and one from 2018 but they kept linking as attachments. If I have time I will post them in the Belfast Zoo Gallery and link to this post
     
    Last edited: 6 Sep 2018
  2. redstarsmith

    redstarsmith Well-Known Member

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    What a great review!

    It has been over 6 years since i’ve Visited Belfast Zoo. I was going between 2006 and 2012. I really enjoyed the visit.

    Shame to hear that Avenue has closed. But that section was always very quiet when I went. I also only observed the Malayan Tapirs in all my visits during that time. A Situtanga jumped over the fence right in front of us and sped off into the lake. Edinburgh really reminded me of Belfast when I visited earlier this year. Both Zoos will provide a challenge to people who find walking up hill difficult.

    The remnants of the Old Belfast Zoo where still visible just off the car park. Interesting reminder of what Zoos used to be.

    I would love to take my family there one day.
     
  3. squirrelmonkey

    squirrelmonkey Well-Known Member

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    If you go into the Belfast Zoo Gallary there is some great photos taken by Al and Zoogiraffe on the old Zoo. Just set the gallery by date and his pictures are on pages 23 and 24. There is also photos taken by paradoxurus on page 21. There is also a picture of the Belfast Zoo History Timeline on Page 8, however I'm not sure if it is readable.
     
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  4. dublinlion

    dublinlion Well-Known Member

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    That's a great review and all of your comments are very fair and accurate imo. Although the pricing has increased recently it is still on par or better than most zoos and the child and senior prices are quite low. Despite the views the hilly site is definitely a problem, but there is a shuttle service during the high season.
    I was recently looking up Belfast hotels online and was disappointed that none of them mentioned the zoo on lists of local attractions. There is a feeling that the business and tourism sectors are less supportive than they might be. When Dublin zoo was in the doldrums the politicians and press and business sector stepped in and offered huge support which helped turn things round.
     
  5. lintworm

    lintworm Moderator Staff Member Premium Member

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    Interesting review and as I had a very enjoyable visit last week and I was thinking of writing a review myself, but I'll keep it to some main points

    - Overall I thought Belfast a very enjoyable zoo and it is much more interesting than Dublin zoo, though most normal visitors would probably disagree. The Belfast zoo was shockingly low visited even on a saturday afternoon in (for N Ireland standards) very good weather. Belfast Zoo just feels very pleasant and some of the newest developments are what I liked less, whereas many older enclosures have aged very nicely. The big difference with Dublin is aesthetics. For example the Sea lion and penguin in enclosures in Belfast are just as spacious as in Dublin, but look more dated. The planting in Belfast is very much reminiscent of Tierpark Berlin, whereas that if you walk around Dublin you would have wished the animal curators would be as imaginative as the botanical department.

    I pretty much disagree about the Spectacled bear enclosure. Yes it looks old, but it has a pretty good size with varied terrain and substrates and some climbing structures. It is in a way a pity that the pool is still polar bear sized, but the land part is still a proper size

    So the otter in the enclosure is actually a Spot-necked otter? What I heard is that the Spotted-necked otter has been kept behind the scenes for some years and ASCO were signed in the otter enclosure. The Otter on show was definately not a Small-clawed otter and unfortunately it stayed in the back of the enclosure, but it looked pretty much like a Spotted-necked otter to me.

    I liked especially the primates in Belfast, mostly species wise as most enclosures were not super spectacular, though often still quite good. It was disappointing to see the Colobus in a Macaque enclosure though (lack of height....). The new S-American monkey enclosures were the biggest disappointment of them all, being small ugly cages with hardly any cover and basically 0 vegetation.

    For every zoonerd it is a must visit zoo imo, it just has a very pleasant atmosphere combined with a very high quality mammal collection. Enclosure wise it looks somewhat dated, but there is nothing shamefully bad like Berlin's primate house, Prague's or Budapest's polar bears or Ostrava's cat house.
     
  6. RedPanDan

    RedPanDan Member

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    A great and detailed review, I’ve also visited a couple of times recently and had very enjoyable visits. However, have to agree that it’s a pity about their financial situation and the resulting inflation of prices and their phasing out of the larger animals.
     
    pipaluk likes this.