Fota Wildlife Park
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On October 15th 2000, Mooney Goes Wild devoted a special programme to Fota Wildlife Park
on the occasion of RTÉ's sponsorship of the park. Details of
the £10,000 sponsorship were revealed by RTÉ's
Director of Public Affairs Kevin Healy, himself a native of Cork.
Dr. Neil Stronach, Director of the Park, thanked RTÉ on
behalf of Fota.
Mooney Team visited Fota for the ceremony and talked to Neil
Stronach and veterinary consultant Liam Guerin about the animals
and the contribution Fota makes to world wildlife conservation.
Fota wardens took the team for a tour of the park and introduced
them to some of the animals. Scoil Iosaf Naofa pupils were present
in force, providing support and lively contributions to the
Fota Wildlife Park, situated on Fota Island, near Cork
City, was established in 1983. It is owned by the Fota charitable
trust, which also runs Fota House and Gardens. It was set up by the
Royal Zoological Society of Ireland to concentrate on breeding
park was the brainchild of Dr. Terry Murphy, director of Dublin Zoo
from 1957 to 1984. The same year, a young Cork architect, Bertie
Pope, had approached the Society about establishing a zoo in Cork.
UCC came on board, and the park became a reality. The first animals
began to arrive in 1982 - cheetahs, giraffes, monkeys, flamingos
and waterfowl. The park was officially opened by President Hillery
on July 27th 1983. Fota Island was the former home of the
Smith-Barry family, descendants of the Normans who came to Ireland
in 1185. The lands dwindled until just the island remained, which
was sold to UCC in 1975.
It is situated on an area of seventy acres, and is home to
more than ninety species of exotic wildlife from five continents.
Many of the animals, such as the wallabies, maras, kangaroos and
lamas are free to roam the park. Others are kept in paddocks, which
have low electric wiring (to minimise the sense that the animals
are fenced in). The only ones to be fenced in are dangerous animals
such as the cheetahs. The park features a lake, which is home to
capybaras (the world's largest rodent), ducks, geese, swans,
pelicans, simang gibbons, white handed gibbons, red ruffed lemurs,
mandarin and colobus monkeys.
European Endangered Species Breeding Programme
Fota exports various animals to other wildlife parks around the
world, for the purposes of breeding, and brings in foreign animals
The forty cheetahs are the only animals to be fenced in. Only about
10,000 cheetahs remain in their natural habitat, and Fota is one of
the world's leading breeders of the endangered species. The park
has been breeding cheetahs for European zoos for the past ten years
with well over a hundred to date. With such low numbers, genetic
diversity is an issue - inbreeding can decimate the population
further. Fota maintains a rigorous DNA test database, with the aim
of preserving 95% or more of the genetic diversity. In a few
generations, they hope to be able to release some of their animals
back into the African savannahs, thus bolstering the population of
the animals creatures in the wild. Capable of running 96 to 120
kmph, cheetahs are the world's fastest land animals. The ancient
Sumerians, the Egyptian pharaohs and even William the Conqueror
trained cheetahs to help them on hunting expeditions. They live an
average of ten to twelve years.
cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) has been hunted to extinction in India,
and the only significant populations left are in the game reserves
of eastern and south-western Africa. It's spotted coat, small head
and ears, and distinctive "tear stripes" from the corner of the
eyes down the sides of the nose make the cheetah highly
recognisable among the large cats of Africa. "Cheetah" actually
means 'spotted one' in Hindi.
One of the park's most popular attractions is the family of over
sixteen ringtail lemurs (Lemur catta) that forage in the trees and
grassy areas. The lemurs are found only in Madagascar, and get
their name from the Latin lemures, meaning 'spirits of the dead'.
This is apparently because of their spectre-like faces.
forms of lemurs have been found in Europe, America and Asia, and
this primitive little primate has changed little in fifty million
years. It is believed to be very similar to man's early ancestors.
They can be identified fairly easily as they have the face of a fox
and monkey-like hands and feet. Most of their time is spent in the
trees where they exist on a diet of leaves, fruit, insects and
lizards. They use their sense of smell to communicate with each
other - they have scent glands on their feet that leave odours on
surfaces they cross. Most lemurs live for about eighteen
are fifty different species of lemur. Of these, ten are critically
endangered, seven are endangered and nineteen are considered
Another endangered creature that the Fota team is breeding is the
Scimitar-Horned Oryx (Oryx dammah) of the Sahara. These large
African antelopes prefer dry, near-desert conditions and can
survive without water for long periods. Both males and females
possess narrow, straight horns of three to four foot in length.
These horns are quite lethal, and the oryx has been known to kill
lions with them. They are also the reason this animal is sometimes
called the sabre antelope. This animal was brought to the brink of
extinction, but is being re-introduced back into its native North
Africa. Similar breeding programs are taking place throughout the
world. The fact that they have, and that information is constantly
pooled, means that when suitable males and females mature, they can
be exchanged. As of 1996, the only populations of scimitar-horned
oryx still existing in the oryx's former range were vagrants in a
reserve in Chad and a reintroduced population in a national park in
Another creature that the Fota team is breeding is the Liontailed
Macaque (a type of monkey), of which only approximately 800 remain
in a tiny patch of Indian forest.
White-tailed Sea Eagle
This bird became extinct in Ireland in the early 1900s, but is now
being introduced into the wilds in Kerry. This magnificent bird of
prey is held for breeding at Fota, where they can be seen by
visitors. The White-tailed Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) is
Iceland's largest bird of prey, and is easily recognisable by the
short white tail and white head in the adults. They have bare
unfeathered legs. The female measures up to three feet in length
and over eight feet across the wings. The wedge-shaped tail is
white in adult birds. The young are uniformly dark in colour. The
White-tailed Sea Eagle is a resident of Greenland, Europe and Asia
from the north of Norway down to Iraq and Iran. The White Tailed
Sea Eagle is primarily a fish eater, showing a preference for
lump-suckers and pike - either taken from the surface or picked up
already dead. They also take water birds up to the size of a swan,
especially coots, eider, duck and the young of herons and
These breed so successfully in their natural seawater estuary that
the park keepers have head to remove some of their eggs and given
them a wooden egg to sit on which, according to park director Dr.
Neil Stronach, does not upset them at all. Info: They used to be
hunted for their skins, meat and the oil that comes from the layer
of fat under the skin. Humboldt penguins have a broad black band
that runs in an inverted horseshoe shape around their fronts. The
chest is dotted with a few black spots in a random pattern. They
are approximately twenty-six inches tall, and weigh about nine
pounds. They live up to twelve years, or up to twenty in captivity.
Humboldt penguins breed all year round on the west coast of South
America. Nests are well excavated burrows. Two eggs are usually
laid. Their predators are skuas and gulls. They are also known as
Peruvian penguins (the name Humboldt cam from the early European
explorer who first saw these animals). Humboldt penguins had lived
undisturbed in their habitat for thousands of years. Within the
last 100 years their droppings have been used as fertiliser. These
droppings are called "guano". Mining the guano has caused serious
damage to their habitats. Today the Humboldt penguin is endangered.
There are as few as 10,000 birds in the wild today.
A few weeks ago, two female giraffes were born at
the park. The half-sisters (they have the same father) have been
called Sive and Aiveen by park staff. There are two giraffes who
have just reached adulthood (i.e. are about two), with whom they
'hang out'.Fota now have 8 in total including the two latest
giraffes are the world's tallest animals, growing to a height of
four metres. Its highly developed sense of sight means that it can
see further than any other terrestrial creature. The movement and
position of the animal's neck are used to express emotion. When it
is angry, a giraffe will lower its neck until it is almost
horizontal. In submission, it stretches its neck and raises its
nose in the air. If they need to, giraffes can go for several days
without water. Instead of drinking, giraffes stay hydrated by the
moisture from leaves. Female giraffes typically give birth to one
calf after a fifteen-month gestation period. During the first week
of its life, the mother carefully guards her calf. Young giraffes
are very vulnerable and cannot defend themselves. While mothers
feed, the young are kept in small nursery groups.
are classified as 'vulnerable' as they are hunted for their meat,
coat and tails. The tail is prized for good luck bracelets, fly
whisks and string for sewing beads. The coat is used for shield
coverings. Habitat destruction and fragmentation are also threats
to giraffe populations. Bizarre giraffe facts: they have
eighteen-inch tongues, and can smell through their lips and
eyelashes, as well as their noses!
is currently involved in projects in Namibia, the south Atlantic
and Central America.
also supports biodiversity projects in the Choco rainforest in
Columbia, South America and also in Lemur conservation in the
forests of Madagascar, off the East Coast of Africa.
- Cheetah Conservation Fund Based in Namibia, this programme aims
to reduce the conflict between ranchers and cheetahs since cheetahs
may kill the ranchers' livestock. Where?: Collection box: at the
Bank Scarlet Macaw Conservation Project, Belize, Central America. Formerly
common in Belize, the scarlet macaw is now threatened with
extinction in that country. This project encourages local people to
protect the macaws and their forest habitat and is helping to
develop tourism based on viewing these spectacular birds. Where?
Collection box: in the Oasis Restaurant.
- Madagascar 7.5% of all membership subscriptions and
adopt-an-animal subscriptions will be donated to conservation in
Madagascar through the Madagascar Faunal Group. This group is an
international coalition of Wildlife Parks and Zoos dedicated to
nature conservation in Madagascar. All proceeds from the sale of
duckfood go to wetland conservation in Madagascar.
- Penguins Fota Wildlife Park encourages visitors to
donate money to support conservation in the Southern Ocean where it
may benefit penguins, albatrosses, seals and whales among many
other wildlife groups. This programme aims to reduce the
destruction of wildlife by commercial fisheries and the petroleum
industry by helping to develop and promote new and less harmful
techniques. Collection box: at the penguins.
- Colombia Half of all the animal and plant species of the
world can be found in the rainforests. The Choco rainforests of
Colombia contain an astonishing variety of life, much of it highly
endangered by man's activities. In recognition that this area is
the native home of the Colombian black spider monkey, 20% of the
takings on the tour train will be donated to conservation projects
in the Choco.
- Waterfowl You can buy waterfowl food to feed the ducks
and geese, from the dispenser on the "Safari Shop". 100% of the
proceeds of these sales go to support wetland conservation in
Wardens at Fota
The wardens at Fota Wildlife Park are multi-disciplinary, i.e.
there is no specific warden for each areas of the park. All wardens
are responsible for all sections. There are six wardens in total.
There is no typical day … every day varies, but standard
duties include feeding (in the early morning and afternoon),
checking and maintenance and cleaning.
Educational facilities at Fota
park provides educational projects for school groups …
children can watch the egg incubation house, and live video cameras
in the houses of animals with babies.
also offers an education programme that includes fieldwork courses
for zoology students from University College Cork, as well as its
own conservation and ecology courses.
Primary level, Fota offer a Conservation Explorer course, and at
Secondary level, students can choose a Conservation and
- Programme, Ecology Course, or Art Course (taught using the
animals as subjects).
camps are run for children, which allow the youngsters to see some
animals not normally accessible to the public, and also to take
part in a series of activities aimed at teaching them the
importance of biodiversity.
more information on Fota, see their website: www.fotawildlife.ie
or phone (021)4812678 or (021)4812736.