On 28 March 1934 Belfast Zoo opened to the public. The zoo, originally named Bellevue Zoo, was built for a cost of approximately £10,000 on a site within Bellevue Pleasure Gardens, a popular destination for day trips.
Daisy the elephant arrived at the docks the day before, on March 27, and walked the six miles to the zoo with keeper Manus Kane. On the way she scared a baker’s cart-horse, which bolted down York Street leaving loaves all over the road, which daisy enjoyed. She also took a large turnip from a greengrocer and climbed into a water trough, washing anyone that got too close.
During World War II only one bomb fell near the zoo, but it destroyed part of the tramline, leading to a huge drop in visitors and the zoo was also affected by the blackouts, which restricted lighting in the zoo in the evenings. In 1945 wolves arrived from Dudley Zoo and a bear from the Royal Zoological Society (Dublin).
Between 1978 and 1985 a major project to redevelop 40 acres around the Floral Hall saw many new exhibits and existing animals rehoused. New pools for the penguins, sea lions and polar bears, a small farm, lion enclosure, elephant house and walk-through aviary were all constructed. The old zoo closed in 1989, but tours are organised each year if visitors want to see it.
The redevelopments have continued more recently with a rainforest house opening in 2008, a new visitor centre the same year, a learning centre in 2015 and a renovated reptile house in 2017, including Buzz Stop, bringing Irish honey bees to the zoo.
The zoo celebrated its 85th year with a family-fun celebration event on Saturday 30 March featuring outdoor garden games, juggling workshops, storytelling and a treasure hunt.
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