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Breeding native species

We have played an active role in breeding a number of native species.

White tailed sea eagle

Hali, a male white tailed sea eagle, hatched in Belfast Zoo in April 2004. This was the first successful captive breeding of this species in the UK. We worked closely with the co-ordinator of a successful release programme in the Hula Swamp region of Israel and, in September 2004, Hali and three other sea eagle chicks from Norway were released. 

Red squirrel

The red squirrel is believed to have existed in Ireland for 10,000 years. Red squirrel populations in Northern Ireland are declining rapidly for a number of reasons: 

Habitat loss

  • In the last 10,000 years, the area of Ireland covered with forests has declined from 80% to below 10%.
  • Diseases have badly affected many forests. For example, the fungus-like P. Ramorum has devastated larch trees. Larch cones are an important food source for red squirrels. 
  • Forests in Ireland are scattered and are often quite small. Red squirrels struggle to survive in small forests where there is competition from the grey squirrel. Red squirrels are now mostly confined to coniferous forests.

Invasion of the grey squirrel 

  • A group of six grey squirrels was deliberately introduced to County Longford in 1911 because landowners thought it would make a good addition to their woodland. However, the squirrels quickly became a pest, stripping bark from trees and causing considerable damage to valuable forests. 
  • Grey squirrels carry a disease called squirrel pox virus. They have developed immunity to the disease, but red squirrels have not.

Belfast Zoo is a member of the Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum (NISF), chaired by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA). The forum was established to protect the red squirrel in Northern Ireland. NIEA and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have drawn up a red squirrel action plan for the conservation of the red squirrel.

Squirrel nook

Belfast Zoo is part of the all-Ireland species action plan for the endangered red squirrel. The main aim of our red squirrel nook is education and research. We also play an active role in a breeding programme for red squirrels. In recent years, red squirrels born at Belfast Zoo have been returned to protected areas in Northern Ireland.