Belfast Zoo

Belfast Zoo Welcomes Baby Vicuna Born During Storm Arwen

Born during storm Arwen on Friday, November 26, this baby Vicuna can be seen exploring it’s new home under the close eye of mum and dad.

Vicuñas are the smallest members of the camel family.

A baby vicuna was born at Ireland’s Belfast Zoo during Storm Arwen, a powerful extratropical cyclone.

The Zoo’s fluffy little new addition was born to mother Áine and father Ozark.

The now three-week-old was born overnight during the storm, with zookeepers making the wonderful discovery the following morning. The baby’s gender is currently unknown but keepers are hopeful they’ll be able to confirm it in the coming weeks.

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Incredibly Rare New-Born Monkey Gets A Helping Hand From Staff At Belfast Zoo


The rare Francois' langur primate, who is only three months old, is still being carefully looked after and bottle-fed by Belfast Zoo Keeper, Geraldine Murphy.

5 Belfast Zoo baby Francois langur

As her “adoptive mother”, Geraldine takes the baby monkey home every night so she can continue bottle feeding her every few hours.

Born on 8 May, the female primate has been nicknamed “wee red” by Geraldine’s family and so she has been officially named Hóngxīn, meaning “red heart” in Chinese. The name is also a nod to the small distinctive heart-shaped birth mark on the back of the infant’s head.

Geraldine has spent several months raising Hóngxīn and has now begun the process of slowly reintroducing her into the family unit.

Listed as endangered with estimates of less than 2000 left in the wild, the monkey is native to China and Vietnam and is threatened by poachers and loss of habitat in its home countries.

These rare primates have black fur with white streaks of hair running from their mouths to their ears. They also have a tuft of hair on top of their head. However, infants are born with orange fur which gradually changes to adult colouration as they mature.

Keeper Geraldine explained that sometimes animals reject their offspring,

“There are occasions where mothers just do not have the skill set or the instinct to care for their young but thankfully this is not very frequent. After monitoring the mother and baby it quickly became clear that we needed to become involved.”

Geraldine is no novice when it comes to hand-rearing animals as she was tasked with looking after two Chilean flamingo chicks, named Popcorn and Peanut, back in 2018.

Geraldine said, 'We prefer for animals to be reared naturally by their parents but this isn’t always possible. Hand-rearing animals is no easy job, it is time consuming and can be difficult, but it is also very rewarding. Hóngxīn is definitely keeping me busy but it will be worth it when she is fully integrated back into her family again.  Not a lot of people know about this type of primate, but these beautiful monkeys are very vibrant animals, who are incredibly intelligent and agile. It is a real privilege to be able help this endangered species.”

Hóngxīn is not the first of its kind to be born at Belfast Zoo as the zoo has been home to this stunning but threatened species since 1994 with more than 20 births since then. 

Belfast Zoo Curator, Andrew Hope is the studbook keeper for the François’ langur breeding programme. This means he is responsible for co-ordinating the genetic and reproductive management of this captive population, which are living in seven European zoos.

Commenting on the birth, Andrew said, “Here at Belfast Zoo we have been incredibly successful at breeding this endangered primate and we are delighted with the arrival of Hóngxīn. This infant is not just something for us to celebrate here at Belfast Zoo, but globally this is significant as with each new arrival, fresh hope is brought to the species as a whole.  Logging and the expansion of agriculture has destroyed the habitat of the François’ langur and they are also captured and sold as pets or used in traditional medicines. Numbers are in serious decline and we are honoured that we are able to play an active role in the conservation of the François’ langur.”

Endangered Lemur Born at Belfast Zoo

Northern Ireland’s Belfast Zoo has welcomed several newborns lately including an endangered crowned lemur.

Zoo Manager Alyn Cairns said, “The birth of every species at the zoo here is a joy, but the birth of an endangered species is always extra special. Lemur mothers keep their babies close to their body so we had to wait for a few weeks to go by before we could confirm that the latest arrival is a boy.”

Crowned lemurs are listed as endangered due to habitat loss, mining and logging. They are also hunted for food and the pet trade.

Crowned lemurs originate from the forests of northern Madagascar and get their names from the ‘crown’ marking above their eye line. Females are primarily grey with orange crowns and males are a darker red-brown with black and orange crowns.

Belfast Zoo Sees Spring Baby Boom

1_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.

With the start of spring, Belfast Zoo welcomed a Vicuña calf, a Red-backed Bearded Saki, and two White-belted Ruffed Lemur babies.

An adorable baby Vicuña was born on March 27 to mother, Gretchen, and her new mate, Ozzy. The zoo is now home to five Vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), which is a camelid species that 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 mountaintop habitat, with stunning views across Belfast Lough.

2_The zoo welcomed an adorable baby vicuña on 27 March to mother  Gretchen  and new male  Ozzy

3_Belfast Zoo is one of only two zoos in the UK to care for red-backed sakis  which originate from South America Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo

Zoo primates have also had recent breeding success. A Red-backed Bearded Saki (Chiropotes chiropotes) and two White-belted Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata subcincta) babies were 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 it 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.

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.”

Third Litter of Capybara Babies at Belfast Zoo

(1) Curator Raymond Robinson was delighted as he witnessed a third set of Capybara babies born this year.

Belfast Zoo is delighted to announce the birth of their third set of Capybara babies in the past year!

The Zoo’s Capybara couple, Chester and Lola, has produced happy ‘capy’ babies three times in the last nine months. The loved up couple welcomed the first pair in April 2018, followed by the second set in July, and the most recent babies in late December.

Belfast Zoo is now home to an impressive herd of 17 Capybaras. The newest male and female offspring have not yet been named.

(2) Parents Chester and Lola are great carers for their offspring  as all have grown into adulthood successfully.

(3) The capybara is often referred to as a giant guinea pig.Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo

Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world and are often found on Central and South American riverbanks, beside ponds and in marshes. The semi-aquatic mammal can dive underwater for up to five minutes and typically live in family groups of 10 to 40. The vocal animals communicate using barks, whistles, huffs and purrs. The species’ biggest threat is their skin, which is in high demand in South America.

Zoo curator, Raymond Robinson, said, "Although the species is not currently classified as endangered, Capybaras are facing increasing danger in their natural habitat, so it is important for zoos to raise awareness of this species and help to sustain their population. We are delighted at Lola and Chester’s successful births over such a short period of time. Our Capybara’s reside in a grassy habitat along our lake walk and live alongside some other South American species including Giant Anteater and Darwin’s Rhea. We hope our visitors will enjoy seeing our little Capybara babies over the upcoming half-term holidays.”

Red Panda Twins Debut at Belfast Zoo

1_However  red panda numbers are declining dramatically due to habitat loss and illegal hunting for their fur.

Belfast Zoo is celebrating the birth of endangered twin Red Panda cubs! The pair was born to parents, Chris and Vixen. Chris arrived at Belfast Zoo, from Beekse Bergen Safari Park in the Netherlands, in 2013. As part of a collaborative breeding programme, he was joined by Vixen (who arrived from Dresden Zoo in April 2017). The pair hit it off straight away and after a gestation period of approximately 135 days, Vixen gave birth to two healthy female cubs on 19 June 2018.

Zoo curator, Julie Mansell, said, “Red Panda cubs are born blind and develop quite slowly. They therefore spend the first few months in the den. It is for this reason that, despite being born back in June, the twins have only recently started to venture outside. Over the last few weeks the twins have become more adventurous and visitors will hopefully get the chance to spot our colourful little arrivals as they start exploring their habitat!”

2_Vixen gave birth to two healthy female cubs on 19 June 2018.  Red panda cubs are born blind and develop slowly.  They spend the first few months in the den.

3_Over the last few weeks the twins have become more adventurous and visitors will hopefully get the chance to spot the colourful arrivals.

4_The Nepalese term for the species ‘nigalya ponya’ which translates as ‘bamboo footed’ and refers to their bamboo diet.Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo

Red Pandas are also known as ‘lesser’ panda or ‘firefox’. It is believed that their name comes from the Nepalese term for the species ‘nigalya ponya’ which translates as ‘bamboo footed’ and refers to their bamboo diet. It was originally thought that this species was related to the raccoon family or even the other bamboo eater, the Giant Panda. They have since been classified as a unique species in their own family, called Ailuridae. Red Panda spend most of their time in the trees. Their sharp claws make them agile climbers and they use their long, striped tails for balance.

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Belfast Zoo Hatches First Chilean Flamingo Chicks

(1)  Belfast Zoo keeper  Geraldine  ‘flamingles’ with latest arrivals as two Chilean flamingos have hatched.

Zookeeper, Geraldine Murphy, has had her hands full over the last few weeks as she has been hand-rearing the first ever Chilean Flamingos to hatch at Belfast Zoo!

Belfast Zoo has been home to flamingos since the zoo first opened in 1934, but the zoo first became home to Chilean Flamingos in 2010. However, in all this time, the birds never laid eggs, despite attempts by the zoo team to encourage breeding behavior.

The team installed mirrors in the enclosure to make the birds think that they were part of a much larger flock, but without success. Last year, keepers built artificial nests consisting of mounds of mud measuring 30 to 60 centimetres in height and installed ‘dummy eggs’, produced by a local wood turner. This had instant success with the birds beginning to display natural courtship behaviours, and soon eggs began to appear on the nests.

Despite the initial excitement, the eggs were infertile but it gave the team hope, which became a reality when this year’s eggs hatched.

(2)  Zoo keeper  Geraldine Murphy  has had her hands full over the last few weeks as she has been hand-rearing the chicks.

(3)  Keepers built nests for the flock to encourage breeding behaviour.

(4) Dummy eggs were made by a local woodturned and placed on the nests.Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo

Zookeeper, Geraldine, stepped in to hand-rear the young chicks, “Popcorn hatched on 17 September and Peanut hatched on 5 October. We monitored the behavior of the adult birds and unfortunately, due to their inexperience at being parents, we had to step in to hand-rear the chicks on this occasion! Until flamingo chicks are able to feed themselves, they rely on ‘crop milk’ which is a nutritious liquid produced by both parents. When they first hatched they needed to be hand-fed six times a day with a substitute that has been developed to provide all of the essential vitamins and nutrients. The pair therefore came home with me every evening and back to the zoo with me each day. As they get older, they will need fewer feeding during the day and when they are old enough they will be reintroduced to the rest of the flock.”

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Meet Betty Bantu, Belfast's Blesbok Calf

(4)  For the first few weeks  keepers were giving Ariel and her calf time to bond.  The new arrival is a female who has been named Betty Bantu  after the African Bantu tribe.

Belfast Zoo is celebrating the birth of a Blesbok calf. The latest arrival was born to mother Ariel and father Aurthur on May 28. 

For the first few weeks after the calf’s birth, keepers gave Ariel and her calf time to bond. They recently learned that the calf is a female and have named her Betty Bantu, after the African Bantu tribe. She is the 11th Blesbok calf to be born at the zoo.

(1)  Belfast Zoo is celebrating the birth of a blesbok calf!
(1)  Belfast Zoo is celebrating the birth of a blesbok calf!
(1)  Belfast Zoo is celebrating the birth of a blesbok calf!Photo Credit: Belfast Zoo

Unlike most Antelope species, which hide their young in brush to avoid predators, Blesbok calves walk and follow their mothers within an hour of birth. 

Blesbok live on the open grasslands of South Africa.  They get their name from the word ‘bles,’ which means ‘blaze’ in Afrikaans, a reference to the very broad white marking on the face.  Both males and females have horns which can be up to 15 inches long.

When European settlers arrived in what is now South Africa in the 17th century, Blesbok were so plentiful that the herds were said to stretch as far as the eye could see. But by the 19th century, after decades of being hunted for their skin and meat, Blesbok faced extinction.

Protections were put in place to save the Blesbok, which is now thriving in the wild and is no longer listed as Endangered. The Blesbok’s story shows that conservation efforts can have a happy ending.

See more photos of Betty Bantu below.

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Zoo’s Red Squirrels Released Into Protected Area

(2)  (Photo credit - Jon Lees)  Belfast Zoo has been home to red squirrels since 2012.

On June 2, Belfast Zoo celebrated another conservation success when two female Red Squirrels, born at the Cave Hill site, left the zoo as part of a release programme at Silent Valley Mountain Park.

(ZooBorns shared news of the birth of the special kits in August of 2017: “Belfast Zoo Celebrates Five Kits in Red Squirrel Nook”)

Silent Valley Mountain Park was selected as the latest Red Squirrel release site, as part of a nation-wide scheme to enhance the population of this beautiful and threatened species. The site was deemed suitable due to the ongoing efforts of the Mourne Heritage Trust, Ulster Wildlife and NI Water to enhance the quality and quantity of woodland available in the area and to keep the area free of competing populations of the invasive Grey Squirrel. The Mourne Heritage Trust also had demonstrable success with the return of Red Squirrels into Mourne Park Estate, in Kilkeel, in 2014.

(1)  The zoo runs the first captive breeding programme for red squirrels in Northern Ireland.

(4)  Squirrels bred at the zoo have been released into protected areas in Northern Ireland.  Two females have recently been released to Silent Valley.

(3) The aim of Belfast Zoo's red squirrel nook is education but the zoo also plays a vital and leading role in red squirrel conservation in Northern Ireland.Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo /Jon Lees, NIEA (Image 1)

Red Squirrels are believed to have been present in Ireland for more than 10,000 years. Many people are familiar with this native species and its bright red coat, creamy white belly, bushy red tail and distinctive ear tufts. However, not everyone is aware that the Red Squirrel in Northern Ireland is in serious trouble. The population has declined dramatically due to loss of habitat and competition from the larger, invasive Grey Squirrel that carries a lethal pox virus.

Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said “Belfast Zoo first became home to Red Squirrels in 2012 when three animals arrived from the Glens of Antrim. The original aim of our Red Squirrel nook was predominantly education and interaction. However, the hope was that the squirrels would be content in the nook to breed and, with this in mind, release arrangements were developed by Belfast Zoo, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum (NISF). Since the arrival of our original trio, we have welcomed numerous kittens and have celebrated several successful re-introductions to protected areas in Northern Ireland.”

Alyn continued, “It is easy to look at the plight of the world’s wildlife and to feel like these problems are a world away from our own daily lives. However, the reality is that Northern Ireland’s very own species are facing increasing threats and the Red Squirrel is the perfect example of this. Here at Belfast Zoo we are committed to playing a leading role in wildlife conservation including wildlife on our own doorstep. The success of the latest release is the culmination of planning and dedication from all parties. It is extremely encouraging that, since the inception of the zoo’s squirrel nook, Belfast Zoo born squirrels have not only supported existing populations in Northern Ireland but have also been imperative in developing new habitats and populations. While this is the first release at Silent Valley we are optimistic that this will be the first of many.”

Dave Farnan, Area Ranger for the Mourne Heritage Trust, explains “The squirrels will live in a soft release pen in Silent Valley for the next few weeks, to acclimatise before being released onsite in mid-June. The two female squirrels will then be joined by two wild male squirrels, who are due to be trans located to the site, with relevant permissions from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Forestry Service NI. This project has been a collaborative effort of so many parties; not just Belfast Zoo and ourselves. The release pen was donated by the Woodland Trust who also donated one thousand native broad-leaved trees, to increase the woodland habitat that these squirrels call home. We have also worked closely with landowners along the Kilkeel and Annalong River who have been enthusiastic in reporting squirrel sightings and allowing Ulster Wildlife and Mourne Heritage Trust staff and volunteers to actively enhance the land for the release. We have been overwhelmed by the support we have received and I can’t wait to see Red Squirrels back in the Silent Valley.”

Belfast Zoo Says 'Hola' to Their New Babies

1_(9)  Call by the zoo this weekend and spot Belfast Zoo's latest arrivals.

Belfast Zoo keepers are saying ‘hola’ to two Capybara babies! The twins were born to mother, Lola, and father, Chester, on April 2.

The Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is a South American mammal that resembles a giant Guinea Pig. They are the largest rodents in the world and measure up to 130 centimeters in length (4.2 feet).

The scientific name for this species “hydrochaeris” is Greek for ‘water hog’. This refers to the fact that the Capybara is a semi-aquatic mammal.

The species is native to Central and South American riverbanks, ponds, and marshes. When the Capybara swims, its eyes, ears and nostrils are positioned above the water to help with vision and breathing. This unusual animal has webbed feet and can even hold its breath for up to five minutes underwater!

2_(1)  Belfast Zoo keepers are saying ‘hola’ to more new arrivals as two capybara have been born!

3_(2)  The capybara babies were born on 2 April 2018 and are beginning to explore their home with their family.

4_(3)  Capybara are the largest rodents in the world and closely resemble giant guinea pigs.Photo Credits: Belfast Zoo

The arrival of the two latest Capybara babies means that Belfast Zoo is now home to a total of thirteen. In the wild, these rodents live in large family groups of ten to 40 individuals. They are incredibly vocal and communicate through barks, whistles, huffs and purrs.

Zoo Curator, Raymond Robinson, said, "Our Capybaras share their home with some other South American 'amigos', including Giant Anteaters and Darwin's Rhea. While the Capybara is not currently classified as an endangered species, it is hunted and poached for its meat and skin. It is important that zoos, such as Belfast Zoo, help to raise awareness of this species and the increasing dangers which Capybara face in their natural habitat. We have no doubt that our South American babies will soon be a firm favourite with visitors!"

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