We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo how about you, you, you?
Forgive that little outburst of song. It’s just the mere mention of the word ‘zoo’ drums up golden childhood memories for me of sun-drenched days strolling around Dublin zoo, ice-cream in hand (and granted, slightly all over face) with that musky animal-y smell on the breeze. Magic!
On the island of Ireland we’ve got zoos a plenty, wild-as-they-get wildlife parks and farm stays all bursting with animal awesomeness. So I’ve thrown together a few of my favourite wildlife and animal destinations.
Hope they get your seal of approval, that you have a whaley good time and that you kangaroo…, sorry.
Sitting pretty in a whopping 70 acres in the resplendent Phoenix Park, is one of the world’s oldest zoos (doors opened back in 1830) and home to over 600 hundred animals housed in some seriously impressive habitats. Being a child and being told, ‘Hey kid, we’re goin’ to the zoo’, is the adult equivalent of being told ‘Hey man, you just won 100 billion euro’! Excitement levels blaze into overdrive.
Furry favourites may vary from person to person but personally I’m of the opinion that Dublin Zoos African Savanna habitat is the cat’s pyjamas. The very broad spread is home to giraffes (watch out for the one with his tongue lolling out), ostriches and zebras all just chillin’ out together having the craic. A little further on a formidable looking group of Rhinos betray their tough-guy image by posing merrily for the cameras.
The African Savanna is also home to a group of consistently cheeky chimpanzees that never fail to bring smiles to faces and some beautiful long-horned oryx. Another firm favourite has got to be the family farm. I know, I know, you go to a zoo to see strange and exotic animals, but the charm of the farm is how close you get to its stars (right up next to ‘em actually!). Possibly Ireland’s luckiest cows, sheep, pigs and goats are all resident here soaking up the adoration of the crowds. The baby goats are particularly cute with their baaing and scampering around and they do have the added attraction of not rocking a pair of horns yet. During the summer months you can see a real dairy cow getting milked and anyone who fancies themselves a regular Freddie farmer can practice on the life-sized model of Daisy the cow. The family farm is informative as well as totally cute = the perfect combo. We’d need a book deal to go through all there is to see at Dublin Zoo suffice it to say that a burly Gorilla seems to have hit the weights and every time we visit the pottering penguins we get a hankering for an ice-cream . Oh, and they have their very own Youtube channel, have a peek.
Farm Stay fun
Picture it now, the sun glistening off a babbling brook as you lay back on the grass watching the leaves sway lazily on the oak branches above you. After a riverside picnic it’s over the gate, through the fields and back to the farm, pausing a moment to bid the pigs, geese and a wobbling, gobbling turkey a good day. No, this isn’t a scene from Little House on The Prairie, its reality down on in the kingdom of – just one of a ton of Irish farm stays.
Self-catering is the name of the game on Hazel Fort Farm; the fully furnished cottages are as delightful as only country cottages can be. A whole cast of farm animals saunter around the farmyard; pot bellied pigs, white geese, goats and a few super-friendly border collies. You can go pony trekking, catch a fish for supper or visit just a short stroll from the farm. Of course there’s plenty of farm stay destinations all over the island, just pick one, grab your wellies and you’re set. This is old-school Irish charm at its best with a hearty dash of animal action for good measure.
Fota Island Wildlife Park
It’s an island covered in lush vegetation, where beasts roam free around the grounds and it’s a major tourist attraction. Sounds familiar right? I reckon Steven Speilberg must have had a snoop around before Jurassic Park.
Thankfully, the inhabitants of Fota are nowhere near as cranky as that villainous T-Rex so you’re chances of making it back off the island are… 100% really. Zoos are cool, but Fota is seriously- cool (big distinction folks): it’s a wildlife park. Many of the 70 species of animals on Fota are let loose, free to amble around the 70-acre grounds to the amazement of visitors. Of course, only the best-behaved animals are granted this freedom. It was slightly surreal when I was just walking along and all of a sudden…!BAMB!… a kangaroo hopped on by, and later a capybara (think giant hamster) popped out from the bushes, which for me, was so much more exciting than seeing them from behind a fence. Within the enclosures on Fota you’ll find some rare and endangered species, such as Rothschild giraffes, European bison and Scimitar-horned oryx. With a couple of little cafes, a kiddies playground and a HB fun train (which to my chagrin, is for kids! Still got halfway round though…) Fota Island provides a memorable day out with lots of up-close animal encounters of the cute kind. Dr. Doolittle would only love it!
I’m starting to think Belfast City is getting a wee bit greedy to be frank. It’s the home of the astounding , you’ve got the resplendent Cathedral Quarter and all the thrills and delights of center. As if that’s not enough it’s only got the wildlife extravaganza that is too. Yes, our next stop on this animal expedition of Ireland is Belfast Zoo. Within the Zoo’s 55 acres there are over 1,000 animals representing around 150 species. Any ornithologists out there (spelled right first time! Wahey!) will surely flock to the Bird Park. Exotic birds from the far reaches of the globe whirl and twirl by in a frenzy of colour, beautiful blue-bellied rollers and hornbills among many more. The Elephant and Giraffe enclosure boasts 28 Rothschild giraffes, a gang of Asian elephants, zebras, meerkats (yes I watched the show!) and the unfortunately named warty pigs (they were quite warty in fairness). Over in the Rainforest house Monica (my better half) was slightly freaked out by the unsettlingly massive fruit bats clinging to the ceiling so we swiftly moved on to the fabled whistling ducks (I could’ve swore one was whistling the intro to Coronation Street but it stopped as soon as we found the duck in question so…. you never know!) We stopped off at the lush lake area for a bite to eat at the picnic tables watching the flamboyant flamingos and regally crowned cranes chatter and prance on the water. You’ve also got a kiddies playground and a lovely little farm in the same area. All in all Belfast Zoo dishes out good old animal fun by the ship-load and is actually quite important, too, as the majority of its animals are endangered in the wild –keep up the good work fellas.
So you see, we’re quite a wild bunch here in Ireland. We love animals great and small from the towering giraffe to the humble farmyard cow and even warty old pigs. Whether its strange and exotic beasts or indigenous wonders you’re after, you can think of Ireland as a modern day Garden of Eden (minus the nakedness and talking snakes of course!).