[Published: Thursday 12, April 2007 – 09:04]
By Linda McKee
Keepers at Belfast Zoo are holding their breath in anticipation of the first Barbary lion birth in Ireland.
The eagerly awaited event is made even more special because the species is now extinct in the wild, a spokesperson for Belfast Zoo said.
The forthcoming birth will crown a spring baby boom in the north Belfast zoo, combined with record visitor numbers over the Easter break.
Lily the purple-faced langur gave birth in January to infant Len, while ring-tailed lemur Mo had her second baby, Bekily, on St Patrick’s Day.
A few days later Elsie the saddleback pig gave birth to a litter of piglets, and the newest arrival a few days ago was Moloch gibbon Belle, born to Assini and Omar and weighing less than a bag of sugar.
Another new arrival is Honey the African pygmy hedgehog.
The spokesperson said Belle the Moloch gibbon was born to a family of four – mother, father, daughter and son – brought to Belfast Zoo last July from Howlett’s Zoo Park in Kent.
“The successful birth of Belle has brought particular joy to the international Zoo community who are endeavouring to boost gibbon numbers through international breeding programmes,” she said.
“Breeding success continues for Belfast Zoo with the potential birth of the first Barbary lion in Ireland. Barbary lions are extinct in the wild, making this future birth even more special.”
More than 30,000 people flocked to the zoo over the Easter break, sparking traffic alerts as queuing cars caused major tailbacks on the Antrim Road.
Zoo manage Mark Challis said visitor levels have increased hugely since the arrival of the good weather.
“During Easter, visitors have increased by 55% on 2006 – fantastic news for the zoo considering 2006 was a record-breaking year for us,” he said.
“This is an achievement for the zoo and for the development of Belfast as a first-class tourist destination.”
The next celebration will be the baby trail from April 21 to 30, followed by the Elephant Experience on May 5 where you can meet the elephant keepers for a behind-the-scenes tour.