Northern Ireland

Coronavirus: Belfast Zoo set to reopen

Belfast Zoo Image copyright Belfast Zoo
Image caption Belfast Zoo was temporarily closed from 14 March as a precautionary measure

Belfast Zoo is set to reopen on Sunday after it temporarily closed due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Belfast Zoo manager Alyn Cairns said that no more than 1,000 people would be allowed in on each day.

The public will have to book in advance of visiting, by telephone.

Social distancing signs will be in place at the site, as well as markers - for two metres at present - and sanitiser stations.

He said he was looking forward to reopening, but added that it would be different to the experience before 14 March, when the zoo closed as a precautionary measure due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Image copyright Belfast Zoo
Image caption Social distancing signs are in place at the zoo

"It will be more about an outdoor experience for the public, coming along to Belfast Zoo's outdoor trek," Mr Cairns said.

Telephone bookings

"The zoo is not going to be the same as it was before Covid.

"There will be social distancing signage and markers - for two metres at present - there will also be sanitiser stations."

Image copyright Belfast Zoo
Image caption There are social distancing markers for two metres at the site

Mr Cairns advised people to book their visit in advance.

"We would encourage telephone bookings.

"There will only be 500 people allowed in the morning, then there will be a break and then 500 allowed in the afternoon."

The zoo café will be offering takeaway service only.

Other measures in place include a one-way system and protective screens at all public contact points.

The council said toilet facilities will be open.

Image copyright Belfast Zoo
Image caption A baby Rothschild's giraffe called Ballyronan was born at the zoo during lockdown

Mr Cairns said only one of the zoo's animal houses would be open initially - the reptile house.

"We have to be mindful of public health and animal health," he added.

"The chimps and gorillas are prone to colds and we have to be sure all precautions are in place for them.

"It is as much about the public giving them a cold or flu."

Mr Cairns praised the efforts of staff during lockdown, and said staff levels had "never got to a worrying point".

He said that although the zoo has been closed to the public, it had been "business as usual" for the animal welfare team.

He would not be drawn on the financial impact of the zoo's closure, but acknowledged there would be "some loss".

He said the zoo had continued with its enrichment programme during lockdown.

"It is important that not only is the zoo clean, but that the animals are mentally and physically stimulated," he said.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Fruit encased in ice is used to feed some of the animals at Belfast Zoo during hot weather

"It is about enriching their lives and how they would be able to live in the wild.

"We would drill holes in logs so that the likes of our Malayan sunbear can access honey from bees.

"We would also have fruit and vegetable in blocks of ice for the animals, we call them ice lollies, that would be given to the bears and elephants.

"Meat would also be frozen for the lions.

"With the hot weather, our Tamworth pig called Honey got extra suntan lotion and the elephants got extra mud baths."

Image copyright Belfast Zoo
Image caption A maned wolf pup (left) is one of the other new arrivals

Mr Cairns also said there had been some "fantastic" new additions to the animal population at the Antrim Road site.

"We had some fantastic births during lockdown, the newest additions are two Scottish wildcat kittens, a baby giraffe which is only three weeks old and a maned wolf pup," he said.

"We are excited to be reopening, it will be good to see the public back."

In March of this year, Belfast councillors were provided with a zoo performance report.

They were informed that visitor figures in 2019 had dropped to 165,075 from the previous year's figure of 209,629, and 258,102 in 2015.

The report said reduction in footfall could be "primarily contributed to poor weather, and significantly lower visitor numbers during November and December".

The council has asked the public to book tickets and secure their slot for visiting by calling the zoo.

It said it will be putting additional resources in place to handle calls.

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