Alongside these ‘pawsomely’ cute babies, Belfast Zoo has welcomed new arrivals as part of European breeding programmes, and said goodbye to some of its residents.
The zoo welcomed an adorable baby vicuña on 27 March to mother, Gretchen, and new male, Ozzy. The zoo is now home to five vicuña, a camelid species which originates from mountain and grassland areas of South America. The number of vicuña living in the wild has decreased due to hunting and habitat destruction, and the species is dependent on breeding programmes to ensure population growth. Belfast Zoo has successfully bred this endangered species for many years. Visitors can see the new baby in its mountain-top habitat with stunning views across Belfast Lough.
Zoo primates have also had recent breeding success, with a red-backed bearded saki and two white-belted ruffed lemur babies born during April. Belfast Zoo is one of only two zoos in the UK to care for red-backed sakis, which originate from South America, and was the first zoo in Europe to breed the species. White-belted ruffed lemurs, from Madagascar, are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild due to habitat loss. Unlike other lemur species, the baby doesn’t cling to their mother but instead is left to rest in a nearby tree or carried in its mother’s mouth.
Alongside new babies, the zoo has welcomed two new female Eastern bongos from other UK zoos, joining Belfast’s resident male. Eastern bongos are African forest antelopes with red, stripy coats and long spiralling horns. This species is critically endangered and it is estimated that there are as few as 200 left in the wild due to habitat destruction and hunting. Belfast Zoo has seen great success with breeding this species, with offspring moved to zoos around the world. It’s hoped the latest arrivals will lead to more breeding success in future.
Belfast Zoo has said a fond farewell to a number of its residents who have transferred to other zoos as part of European breeding programmes. Amber, the red panda cub who made headlines thanks to her escape from the zoo earlier this year, and her sister, Autumn, have moved to zoos in Sweden and Germany.
An endangered Columbian spider monkey moved to Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park, two Cape porcupines were transferred to Fife Zoo in Scotland, three capybara were transferred to Secret Valley Wildlife Park in Wexford and two Belfast Zoo-born Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo offspring moved to Chester Zoo and a zoo in France. Belfast Zoo was the first zoo in the UK and Ireland to successfully breed this critically endangered tree kangaroo species. A new joey has been spotted in recent months, however it will not venture out of its mother’s pouch until later this year.
Three red squirrels bred in Belfast Zoo have moved to St Francis’ Primary School in Lurgan. The animals will be kept in the school woodlands to educate children and the local community on native species. Belfast Zoo is delighted to work with this environmentally-focused school who has been awarded with two Eco School’s Green Flags, two Grow Wild project grants and a Gold award for RSPB’s ‘Wild Challenge’.
Alyn Cairns, Zoo Manager, said: “We are absolutely thrilled with our recent baby boom at Belfast Zoo and hope our visitors will enjoy seeing our newest arrivals. Whilst we are always sad to say goodbye to any of our animals, especially those born at Belfast Zoo, the moves are essential for wildlife conservation. Zoos round the world help to ensure the future of endangered species and collaborative breeding programmes are a vital way of managing this. We currently take part in more than 60 global breeding programmes.”
“The zoo is a very popular place for people to visit at Easter time and this provides a great opportunity for visitors to see our new babies and learn more about the species we care for. Whether you are bonkers about bongo, silly about sakis or loopy for lemurs, we have lots for visitors to see over the upcoming holidays including our new baby animals.”
Visitors can hop over to the zoo this Easter for a fun day out for all the family. On Easter Monday (22 April) and Tuesday (23 April) visitors have the chance to win some ‘egg-cellent’ prizes through a treasure hunt and Madagascar-themed trail. Belfast Zoo is open daily from 10am until 6pm over the Easter holidays.