Fota gets go-ahead for €7 million expansion
After collapse of Celtic tiger, wildlife park hopes Sumatran tigers will boost visitors
A Sumatran tiger. Fota’s Asian Sanctuary will have several Sumatran tigers, which are a protected species and rare in the wild.
Fota Wildlife Park in Cork is pushing ahead with an estimated €7 million expansion plan after receiving planning permission this week for a development that will increase the size of the park by 40 per cent.
Fota will begin work on the first phase of the 26-acre development, costing some €2 million, early in the new year.
Sean McKeown, director of Fota Wildlife Park, said it hoped to have the Asian Sanctuary open to visitors by the summer.
It will include several Sumatran tigers, which are a protected species and rare in the wild, and plans to breed them.
It will also include visayan water pigs from the Philippines and visayan spotted deer.
The expansion plan is split into four phases, which Fota hopes to have completed before the planning permission runs out in five years. It currently only has funding in place for the first phase.
Mr McKeown said the park, which attracts close to 400,000 visitors annually and is one of Munster’s biggest tourist attractions, hopes to obtain some State funding, possibly through one of the Government’s job-creation schemes.
Fota employs 100 staff during peak times and 40 all year round, but estimates employee numbers could be boosted by 25 per cent from the expansion.
Mr McKeown said it is also seeking corporate sponsors to pay for the upkeep of some of its animals.
“We will try every avenue for funding. It would be great if we could attract a corporate sponsor for a tiger, or an Indian rhino or an Asian lion.”
Early next year Fota, which also funds conservation projects in Ireland and Asia, will also open an animal care and conservation centre, which should further boost visitor numbers.
Mr McKeown said visitor number dipped sharply in the early part of the year.
“It was the effects of the cold spring. It was terrible – numbers were down 30 per cent by mid-May.”
Numbers recovered later in the year, he added, and Fota expects this year’s overall performance to match last year.
The park filed accounts this week for 2012, which showed total revenues of just over €4 million, down from more than €4.2 million in 2011.
It recorded a surplus of about €460,000 and has net assets of €6.6 million.