The Queen or Barack Obama may not have visited Fota Wildlife Park last year but 390,146 people did, making it another record year for the popular Cork attraction who is also celebrating the birthday of the oldest swinger in town this month.
Fota Wildlife Park which was established in 1983 has seen an 18% increase in visitor numbers since 2008 and in the last 18 months has undergone a huge transformation with brand new facilities and improvements to the animal enclosures within the park. Speaking about the increase, Head of Marketing Stephen Ryan said "it is very encouraging to see that our numbers increased again in 2012 despite very poor weather conditions in our traditional peak seasons, but what we are now seeing is the park becoming a place that people visit 12 months of the year rather than 8 weeks during the school holidays in the summer".
The park had a busy year all round in 2011 with the official opening of its new entrance complex by former President of Ireland Mary McAleese, the hosting of the annual BIAZA (British Association of Zoos and Acquaria) conference and the births of meerkats, white tailed sea eagles, giraffe, zebra, howler monkeys, lion tailed macaques, kangaroo, lechwe, peacocks, ostriches and European Bison. Mr Ryan believes that the current economic climate is also playing a part in the increase, "people are looking for good deals at home and we have seen a huge increase in Irish holiday makers here at the park in particular the Leinster area which now accounts for 28% of all our visitors and we believe that this is being helped with the package deals we have established with many of the leading hotels in Cork".
During the summer Fota Wildlife Park hired research company Behaviour & Attitudes to do a study on visitors and the key finding was that 46% of all visitors that visit the park stay in paid for accommodation overnight with the majority staying in hotels. The survey also showed that these visitors are staying an average 3 or 4 nights in the area; with a total spend of €146m.
390,146 isn't the only number being talked about in the park at the moment with 42 being shouted out a lot, the age of the oldest monkey in the park. Ol Blues eyes the female Columbian Spider Monkey is celebrating her 42nd Birthday this month, which is amazing as the expected life span of a Columbian spider monkey is only 24.
Ol Blue Eyes is a popular animal in the park with her striking blue eyes that can be seen by anyone passing her area including those on the Cork to Cobh train which runs by her house throughout the day. Ol Blue eyes has a fascinating story having been originally caught in the wild, this is a practice which would be now frowned upon.
When found Ol Blue Eyes was attached to her dead mother and therefore had a struggle to survive. She came to Fota Wildlife Park 19 years ago in 1993 from Chester Zoo and now can be seen with Batty, Arnold, Choco and Shakira the other Colombian Spider monkeys throughout the year.