Belfast Zoo and its OTRs (On The Runs) – The way we were

Everyone knows Unionists don’t like OTRs (On the Runs).

Maybe that’s another reason why

chris mc gimpsey

Chris McGimpsey wants to see Belfast Zoo closed. Though he claims financial reasons. He told a Belfast council meeting that  is losing £2 million year .
It costs the ratepayers of Belfast £40,000 a week.”

28 March 1934: Belfast Zoo, which is owned by Belfast City Council, opened first opened its gates to the people of Belfast.

belfast zoo opening

Belfast people remember:
“The big cats were kept in cages no bigger than a small living room and did nothing but lope back and forward continuously, which is probably the feline equivalent of rocking back and forward in your chair”

cat in cage
The “poor oul lions were fed up”,as they paced up and down their cages.
“I remember going there as a kid in the 1970’s and the poor monkeys were in cell sized cages all going berserk and throwing stuff thru the bars”.

polar bear 2
“The oul polar bear and elephant had only small whitewashed yard/prison sized enclosures to wander back and forth”.

What does the Zoo mean to the people of Belfast?
Used to love going to Bellevue but hated walking all the way there and back from the town centre!!
I and friends spent Summers at Bellevue and the Cavehill.

queues in belfast
“I remember jostling for the bus at Castle Junction on the outward trip & wondering how we would get home again,such was the crowd at the terminus”.

man and faughter
“My Daddy would bring us every other Sat. travelling by bus from City center ; and sometimes walking up past waterworks onto Cavehill Rd onto Cavehill over and down to Bellevue.  Sometimes we would get the wee bus up instead of the steps”.

I remember my Grandfather used to take me there and I still recall how the branches overhanging the Zoo wall used to hit against the side of the double-decker bus as we made our way up the road. We now take our Grandchildren to visit and I can recommend it as an outing for any pensioner as we get in free!!

bellevue steps

What does it mean to the people of North Belfast?

lions roaring
“We used to hear the lions roaring when we were in bed at night”
“At my parents the roar of the lion was quite loud when it came near feeding time”.

OTRs – On the runs!!!

escaped eagle
late 40s -early 50s: the Eagle that escaped from Belfast Zoo  was reported seen over Flax street. People turned out in their hundreds to get a glimpse of it.

escaped lion
1970’s:  a lion  headed for the city ending up on Shore Road a few miles away. reportedly hopping over garden fences and hedges in steeple chase fashion.
polar bear
1970s: A polar bear escaped from Belfast Zoo. After roaming around West Belfast it was tracked down and shot by the police. They took it to Ulster Museum where it was put into storage. But it wasn’t dead. During the night a museum security man heard strange noises  and found the door to the storage vault ripped open, the polar bear was rampaging through the museum and the police were called in once again. They shot it behind the ear leaving a mark which can be seen on the displayed bear to this day”.
Kevin, the incorrigible Spider Monkey, did a runner after having a fight with his father. When he was re-captured zoo officials ordered Kevin to leave the country and he was exiled to an animal jail in Spain.

2005: In a daring daylight escape Phoebe the chimpanzee and  two fellow conspirators used a log to climb over the compound wall. Within minutes of the trio’s escape shots rang out. The good citizenry of north Belfast were thinking “here we go again” as word of a shooting spread from door to door. Police denied firing at the unarmed simians stating instead that they fired warning shots into the air and the chimps put their hands in the air and were taken in

lynx kitten 2

1991: When I was about 8 or 9 I saw a beautiful kitten walking along one of the zoo paths.I  wanted to bring it home but it ran off. Then the zookeepers arrived from round a corner, puffing and red faced with running , nets in hand.
Seen a lynx? It’s got out”

The Great Escape

One of two monkeys that escaped from Belfast Zoo was still on the run  36 hours after he first fled his enclosure.

2 bongo antelopes
July 2006: two bongo antelopes jumped their enclosure fence. They were recaptured using an anaesthetic dart on the zoo boundaries at Antrim Road and Cave Hill.

prairie dog
February 2008: a prairie dog was found in nearby Hazelwood Park by staff using nets.

ring-tailed lemur

April 2008: a ring-tailed lemur was found dead on Hightown Road one and a half miles from the zoo the day after it fled the grounds.

Final comments: I’m pretty sure some Baboons also escaped in the 1930’s and have been trying to  run Belfast ever since. They’re looking at re-capture soon.,189.15.html,41437.0.html



3 thoughts on “Belfast Zoo and its OTRs (On The Runs) – The way we were

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