History of Belfast Zoo
The story of Belfast Zoo begins with the city’s public transport system.
At the beginning of the 20th century, passengers from Belfast were transported to the villages of Whitewell and Glengormley by horse-drawn trams belonging to the Belfast Street Tramway company and steam tramways from Cave Hill and Whitewell.
In 1911, the tram line was taken over by Belfast Corporation, now Belfast City Council.
Building Belfast Zoo
In 1933, the corporation decided to install a representative zoological collection on the site.
Then, in 1934, 12 acres on either side of the Grand Floral Staircase, a series of steps designed to reach the top of the hillside, were laid out as Bellevue Zoo.
It took 150 men to build the site and the steps can still be seen from Antrim Road today.
The zoo was opened on 28 March 1934 by Sir Crawford McCullough, the then Lord Mayor of Belfast.
The venture was supported by Councillor RJR Harcourt from Belfast Corporation and was partnered by George Chapman, an animal dealer and circus entrepreneur.
It cost £10,000 to build and a total of 284,713 people visited the zoo in its first year.
Impact of World War II
Many of the animals in the zoo’s first collection arrived in Belfast by boat.
Daisy the elephant travelled on the Heysham steamer and, after she was removed from her crate, she was walked by zookeepers from the Belfast docks to Antrim Road, a distance of between five and six miles!
In 1941, the Ministry of Public Security ordered the destruction of 33 animals after north Belfast came under aerial attack during World War II. Animals, including lions, wolves and polar bears, were killed and the collection was not restocked until around 1947.
Several elephants survived the attacks, and one baby elephant was cared for by an elderly lady who lived on the nearby Whitewell Road.
The modern zoo
During the 1950s and 1960s, the zoo went into decline.
By the time the corporation’s parks committee took control of the site in 1962, restoration was badly needed and work began on the new zoo site in 1974.
Since then, the council has continued to support the zoo, donating £1.5 million every year to help run and promote the site.
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