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Fota Wildlife Park

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Boy at Fota
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.

The 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 programme.

Fota Wildlife Park

Flamingo 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 endangered species.

The 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.

ostrich 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 for mating.

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.

The 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.


Lemurs 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.

Fossil 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 years.

There are fifty different species of lemur. Of these, ten are critically endangered, seven are endangered and nineteen are considered vulnerable.

Scimitar-Horned Oryx
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 Tunisia.

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 gulls.

Humboldt Penguins
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.

Aiveen the giraffeA 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 arrivals.

Info: 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.

They 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!

Fota's conservation projects
  • Fota is currently involved in projects in Namibia, the south Atlantic and Central America.
  • Fota 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 cheetahs.
  • Red Bank Scarlet Macaw Conservation Project, Belize, Central America.Macaw 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 Madagascar.

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

  • The 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.ostrich
  • Fota 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.
  • At Primary level, Fota offer a Conservation Explorer course, and at Secondary level, students can choose a Conservation and Environmental Awareness
  • Programme, Ecology Course, or Art Course (taught using the animals as subjects).
  • Summer 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.

For more information on Fota, see their website: www.fotawildlife.ie
or phone (021)4812678 or (021)4812736.

© RTÉ 2011
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