One of three bears enjoying a much improved quality of life thanks to Wild Ireland. PHOTOS: Siobhán McNamara
Since I first heard about the arrival of bears in Burnfoot, the call to go and see them has been strong.
I have always found them to be magnificent creatures that I could watch for hours when looking at them in zoos or wildlife parks. This has invariably been bittersweet as it is clear that they belong in vast, mountain forests with clear, clean rivers and little or no human interference.
But having read about Wild Ireland and the story behind its rescued animals, I had a feeling that this would be different.
I finally made it along last Saturday and Wild Ireland certainly did not disappoint.
The animals are of course in enclosures, but given that many of the resident creatures were rescued from dire, cramped living conditions, a spacious, well thought out enclosure in the natural landscape of the Donegal hills is a vast improvement.
Indeed, the landscape is used very well and it plays its own part in the Wild Ireland story.
This is no safari park imposed on the land. Instead it uses and celebrates everything that the natural terrain has to offer, from heath and bog to scrub and natural woodland. Waterways are used or created in keeping with the natural environment, and their inhabitants are acknowledged too.
The larger animals are spectacular, but there is something very heartwarming about watching a female mallard nestling down amidst the familiar purple heather.
Wild Ireland is laid out so that everything can be seen in a relatively short space of time and although there is a one-way system, visitors can go around as many times as they like. I would definitely recommend a second or third trip around the sanctuary as each one offers a different view or experience of the animals.
There are foxes and ferrets, birds and wildfowl of all shapes and sizes including a juvenile golden eagle called Odin, deer, old Irish goats (Seamus is a joy to behold!), boar, otters and more.
Among the more exotic species are monkeys, lynx and of course the wolves and bears.
It is an absolute joy to see these fantastic animals here in Donegal, and to imagine a time when they roamed freely in extensive forests that once covered the island.
What Killian McLaughlin has achieved with Wild Ireland is really special. It touches something very deep that goes beyond mere human experience.
At its most basic, Mr McLaughlin has rescued the animals and provided them with a safe place to heal and grow closer to their true nature. But he has also tapped into the innate memory of the land, creating a connection to a natural way of life that has nothing at all to do with humans except for the fact that it was humans who brought it to an end.
Wild Ireland celebrates these animals and their part in this country’s story, and its very existence shows that humans can also be a force for good when it comes to the natural world.
This sanctuary helps us to understand our past and present relationships with wild animals and our shared environment, and is a guiding light when it comes to how we can all take responsibility for making our planet a better place for all its occupants.
Our trip to Wild Ireland was worth every cent of the admission fee (and the small fortune we happily spent at the gift shop!).
Pre-booking is essential at present due to the need to limit the number of visitors at any one time. More information and booking details can be found at www.wildireland.org
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