The agriculture minister believes the State should provide financial support for ambitious expansion plans at Fota Wildlife Park in Cork.
Simon Coveney was speaking yesterday as he opened Fota’s new €4.7m Asian Sanctuary — a 27-acre expansion which increases the size of one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions to some 100 acres.
Fota Wildlife Park chairman Neil O’Carroll said the opening of the first two phases of this new sanctuary is the most significant development since the park opened in 1983.
Fota has spent €10m developing new facilities since 2010, including a new entrance and education centre in 2010, and a tropical house in early 2013.
All were funded by surplus funds and loans, with the exception of one grant from South and East Cork Area Development (Secad) towards the building of indoor facilities at the tropical house.
The park needs to raise €5m to deliver the final two phases of the Asian Sanctuary — providing half the funding itself in the hope of securing matching funding from the exchequer.
Mr Coveney accepted that the State has provided the wildlife park with little financial support over the last three decades, and he hailed the visionaries whose idea it was more than 30 years ago to establish a wildlife park and sanctuary in Cork, which last year welcomed a record 440,000 visitors, and which was worth an estimated €175m to the regional economy.
But after a briefing on the park’s latest expansion plans, he said: “There needs to be some state investment to support what Fota Wildlife park as an entity is investing themselves.
“We have created something very special here in Cork and we need to support that, advocate for that, and help fund it.
“Because it has so many visitors, Fota raises a lot of revenue, and will be able to support some of the financial investment themselves, but I think they’ll probably need some assistance from government as well, and we need to figure out how best to do that.
“We will work with the park and stakeholders to see whether we can get supports over the next couple of years to make sure that this extraordinary project and economic driver continues.”
The new sanctuary, which was built by MMD Construction, includes new lakes, islands, animal areas, a dedicated entrance and a 50-metre raised walkway to provide clear views of the animals.
Member of the governing body of Fota Wildlife Park and former president of Dublin Zoo, Margaret Sinanan, feeding Jamil.
It is home already to some of the world’s most endangered species including Sumatran tigers, Visayan spotted deer, visayan warty pigs, lion tailed macaques, and the park’s latest arrival, Jamil, a two-year-old Indian rhino.
There are plans to introduce monkeys, gibbons and red pandas to the area in the coming weeks.
It is hoped the next two phases, which depend on funding, will see the delivery of habitats for Asian bears and lions, Malayan tapirs, as well as wetlands, plains and mountain habitats for species such as takin, markhor, cranes, gazelle, onager and Persian deer.
The park is the eighth most visited attraction in Ireland, and was recently listed in Europe’s top 25 zoos or animal parks by TripAdvisor.
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