Opened in 1934, Belfast Zoo started as an “end of line” attraction for Belfast City’s tramway and has been providing children, and adults alike, with a glimpse into the rare wonders of the animal kingdom ever since. With so many animals to see, over one thousand at last count, a single trip can mean seeing animals that would require around the world trips otherwise.
Enjoying an indoor feeding
Before setting off to the zoo; remember to wear your walking boots. With so many animals and due to the Zoo’s geographic location, the side of Cavehill overlooking Belfast, you have plenty of walking ahead of you both uphill and down. The Zoo is broken down into a number of walks, some leading into others, to help you find your way around. There are a few walks that garner particular attention but there is also much more to see beyond these.
Some of the largest mammals on Earth (and the largest on their home continent), the thunderous Asian elephants along the Elephant and Giraffe walk are a wonder that must be seen. As the walk’s name would suggest, this area is also home to giraffes, as well as zebras and ostriches. Here, within their pens, they frolic if the weather is nice enough or will retreat indoors if the heavens open (as they did the day that I visited). Don’t worry though, you can visit them within the Elephant and Giraffe House where there is usually a zookeeper on hand to tell you a little more about each of them. Here you’ll get a really close look at these giants.
Sometimes you're the one being watched...
Another popular walk within the Zoo is the Cat walk. Along this route you’ll see the pride of the animal kingdom; the majestic Lion. Here at Belfast Zoo, they have the rare Barbary Lion whose thick mane covers much of their body and who will often make the entire zoo aware of their presence with deep booming roars. Whether it’s basking in the sun or prowling around their enclosure; the lions do what they do with an air of superiority. Leading to the lion enclosure is the area of the zoo taken over by the Red Pandas. Here they can be seen scattered throughout their tree climbing along branches and dropping down to retrieve food from the ground below. Finally, this route is home to Sumatran Tigers; a rare breed of tiger who are almost extinct in the wild. The large wild cats can sometimes seem to be missing as they're shyer than their cousins next door.
For those more aquatically minded, the Sea Lions & Penguins walk may be more your thing. As the name suggests, here you’ll find the tanks for the zoo’s penguins and sea lions. The penguins here are well known for their boldness and fun-loving nature; there is also an area where you can watch their underwater antics. If the weathers nice then they’ll be seen lounging in the sun or playing by the water’s edge. The sea lions are definitely one of the zoos more vocal inhabitants, as well as being surprisingly fast swimmers. They seem to enjoy causing commotion in and around the water especially when their cubs are involved.
A wave? Or just striking a pose?
Finally, there are the monkeys. Be it along the Monkey walk or in the ape house, the primates dominate a large section of the zoo. There are two large outdoor areas where you’ll catch the zoo’s gorillas and chimpanzees; when not outside you’ll find them clambering around within the ape house. The most fascinating thing to see is not only their hulking human-like frames but their social interactions with one another; you'll quickly identify who's king gorilla. In and around the Monkey House you’ll find Javan Brown and Francios’ Langurs, Red Titi Monkeys and the especially hilarious Red-backed Bearded Sakis. The monkeys are definitely some of the most entertaining of the zoo's inhabitants and love showing off their acrobatic prowess and perfect comedic timing.
This isn’t even close to covering all of the animals present here; elsewhere in the zoo you’ll find bears, flamingos, a number of tropical birds, wolves, anteaters and much more. For us humans visiting, there are plenty of facilities throughout the zoo including places to eat, toilets picnic benches, shelters in case the weather turns and all-important zoovenir shop.
The zoo is open throughout the year. Admission costs £10.50 per adult, £5.25 per child with children under four getting in for free. There are a number of other tickets available families, seniors and students.
Words and Images by John Temke