Fota is unique among Irish zoos in the way the animals are managed. The animals chosen for the park are ones who can withstand the vagaries of Irish weather, and are kept in semi-natural surroundings, as close as possible to those they would have in the wild.
That said, some are in less than huge enclosures and it is not a wildlife park where you need to get a bus and to on safari – it is an easy walk and it is possible to see the whole park in a morning or afternoon.
The list of species is impressive. Giraffes, Zebra, Oryx and Ibis roam a large plain area, while Bison lumber around another large enclosure.
Ostrich, Rhea and Emu are among the larger birds, the pair of lazy Pelicans on the left are usually found lounging by the lake on which several species of duck live.
There are Flamingos, penguins and even a pair of American Eagles. The Cheetah are a big attraction and if you arrive when their keeper is with them, stroking and playing with them, it is very easy to see your domestic moggy in these majestic cats!
Many of the animals are quite tame and can be stroked by visiting children – notably the Kangaroo and the Mara, odd looking rodents which look like a cross between a rabbit, a deer and a rat. I’d never seen these creatures before visiting Fota and found them utterly fascinating.
Each day there are a number of short talks available about the animals, presented in a very entertaining manner and hugely enjoyed by children. The staff are very willing to chat about the animals and it is well worth sticking around if you see a talk flagged while you are there.
Visiting Fota Wildlife Park
The park is open all year round, from 10am to 6pm for most of the year, 10am to 4.30pm from November to mid-March.
There is a reasonably good restaurant near the lake which serves basic meals and snacks. The gift shop close to the exit is a little disappointing, selling overpriced animal toys, posters and other similar souvenirs, some of which are, frankly, just tat.
You could easily make a day of a visit here, with the wildlife park in the morning and after lunch a tour of the adjacent Arboretum and Fota House. Cobh is nearby and the Heritage Centre there, with its exhibits about the Titanic and Irish emigration to America and Australia is also well worth a visit.