If you’re looking for an African safari with big game and large predators, Ireland is probably not the ideal destination. Ireland’s five national parks do however offer some spectacular and fascinating wildlife, bird and insect life for visitors to enjoy, set in diverse and beautiful countryside.
The biggest naturally occurring mammal you will find in Ireland is the Red Deer. Unique to Ireland, these magnificent animals can be seen in Killarney National Park, Glenveagh, Ballycroy and the Wicklow Mountains parks. Other mammals seen regularly include hare, badgers, the red fox, pine martens, the Irish stoat, mink, otter and fallow deer. Connemara National Park features the Connemara Ponies. Although considered a domestic animal, they wander the countryside in herds in Connemara, making a distinct impression on visitors to the park.
With over 100 bird species native to Ireland, birdwatchers will enjoy the national parks’ offerings. Raptors include owls, peregrine and falcon, with the Golden Eagle having been successfully reintroduced into Glenveagh National Park after it’s disappearance from Ireland in 1912. Golden plover, ravens and many other species can be found throughout the Irish countryside.
For a wider variety of wildlife from around the world, visitors can see Siberian tigers, rhino, hippo, lion, wolves, gorillas, snow leopards and orang-utans at Dublin Zoo. The facilities are well laid out, replicating the animals’ natural habitat as closely as possible. Belfast Zoo has Asian elephants, white tiger and spectacled bears as well as many other animals on show for visitors to enjoy.
The Exploris Aquarium and Seal Sanctuary in Northern Ireland features an open sea tank with deep water fish, and discovery pools for children to experience the creatures of the sea up close. The stunning coastlines of Ireland provide an opportunity to see seals and other sea life in their natural environment as well, and whale and dolphin can be seen at certain times of the year.
For the more adventurous, Fota Wildlife Park allows visitors to wander with free-roaming animals (though not the carnivorous kind). Situated over 70 acres on Fota Island in Cork Harbour, this wildlife park specialises in endangered or threatened species, some of which, like the Rothschilds Giraffe and European Bison, may never be seen in the wild again. Lemur, emu, various monkeys, kangaroos, red panda, penguin and even cheetah may be seen at Fota Wildlife Park.
Although Irish wildlife may not seem to offer a thrilling adventure, the lack of large predators means that visitors can walk or cycle through the national parks in relative safety. This affords visitors the opportunity to see smaller animals that make for interesting viewing, particularly in their natural habitat. For the more unusual, and dangerous, animals, a visit to one of the zoos or the wildlife park will certainly entertain and educate you.
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