The wildlife park has lodged plans with Cork County Council for an ambitious 28-acre expansion programme, which will increase the size of the park by 40%, making it one of the largest parks of its kind in Europe.
If given the go ahead, the plans will see the Co Cork park introduce a wide range of exotic animals including Indian rhinos, Sumatran tigers, and Asiatic lions at a new Asian sanctuary.
The park also hopes to secure two rare giant pandas and will be counting on Cork’s twinning relationship with the Chinese city of Shanghai to strengthen its case.
Park spokesman Stephen Ryan said it was a very exciting time for the park.
“It’s taking us to the next level.” said Mr Ryan. “The park hasn’t changed for 30 years and this will be a complete revamp and will showcase what we’re all about, which is conservation. We’re more than just a family day out.
“It will enable us to breed more animals which are endangered and put them back into the wild. We’re focusing on Asia as it’s a part of the world where animals are most endangered.”
Mr Ryan said it would be a huge coup for the park to get pandas, as they are extremely rare.
“In the UK alone, there are just two pandas in Edinburgh Zoo, but if we don’t manage to get pandas we will have Asiatic bears.”
Among the other animals the park expects to welcome as part of the new development include an Asian wild dog called a dhole, a goat-antelope called the golden takin, which is native to China, and Japanese cranes.
It is hoped that the first phase of the project, which will see additions to the park of Sumatran tigers and wharty pigs from the Philippines, will be open to the public by next summer.
It will be 2015 before the entire development, which comprises 17 new buildings, including a viewing building and souvenir shop, is completed.
It has been listed as one of Ireland’s Top Ten visitor and is the most popular tourist destination in Cork.
The park runs an extensive conservation programme and, in the last 10 years, has bred and introduced a range of endangered species back into their natural habitats.