THE LAST wild boar is believed to have been killed in Donegal sometime in the 12th Century. But a new generation of the wild creature has returned with the birth of six baby ‘boarlets’ at a wildlife sanctuary in the county.
Killian McLaughlin, who opened his sanctuary ‘Wild Ireland’ last October, got a shock when he went to see the animals last Thursday morning. Tory, the female boar he had adopted from a zoo in England, had given birth overnight.
McLaughlin (34), who is about to become a father for the first time himself in the next few weeks, was delighted to welcome the six new additions to his stock and flock at Wild Ireland. The park nestled in deep woodland near Burnfoot on the Inishowen Peninsula is already home to three brown bears, three wolves, a linx, deer, foxes, swans, ducks and a number of Barbary macaque primates, who live on an island in the park.
For McLaughlin, who works as a solicitor in the nearby town of Buncrana, the wildlife sanctuary has been a long-held dream. Ever since childhood when he began taking waifs and strays into the back garden, he had been hoping to build a home on a larger scale for wild animals in need of rescue.
When he did his research, McLaughlin, who studied zoology before becoming a lawyer, realised that animals like bears and wolves were native to this country but had become extinct in the wild here many years ago.
For years he had been looking for the perfect site to bring his dream to fruition. Last October he opened Wild Ireland to a huge public reaction with visitors flocking to the attraction from all over the country to see Donncha, Aurnia and Ríonnach the three brown bears as well as Oisin, Fergus and Finn, the three wolves.
However the arrival of the coronavirus meant that the sanctuary has been closed and only McLaughlin himself and the animal keeper Pamela O’Brien are going in on a daily basis to take care of the animals.
Ticket sales were paying the keeper’s wages as well as the wages of staff who worked in the shop and McLaughlin says the public has been very kindly donating funds to make sure they can continue to take care of the animals. He’s not taking a wage himself and all the monies from sales are being pumped back into the sanctuary.
He describes the birth of the boars as a ‘glimmer of light’ in this dark time and hopes the pictures of the boars he has shared with followers of the park will remind people that there will come a time when people will get back to normal family activities again.
He explains that when he took Tory from a zoo in the UK where she was surplus there was a suspicion that she might be pregnant. However they didn’t know for sure she was pregnant because most wild animals will conceal a pregnancy for their own protection.
When he arrived at Wild Ireland last Thursday morning, he found Tory with six boarlets, which have yet to be named. In keeping with their mother, who is named after an island off the coast of Donegal, McLaughlin says they’re looking for island-inspired names for her offspring.
“Tory fitted in perfectly with Wild Ireland because we focus on animals that were once native to Ireland. We’ve been delighted with people’s response to us - there’s something about it that’s captured everyone’s imagination. They love to see these animals back together again in the forest,” says McLaughlin.
“It’s fantastic that people are interested in Wild Ireland and I was delighted to share it. It was never opened as a business. It’s an animal sanctuary. A big part of what we do is letting kids see the animals in the wild. That makes a big impression on young minds and inspires a new generation of conservationists. It’s so important when we are all so disconnected for the natural world,” he says.
At the other side of Inishowen, at Malin Head, John McGonagle is hoping that his tourist attraction which allows people to walk with alpacas will open again once restrictions are lifted later this year.
McGonagle, who runs the Wild Alpaca way, with his family at the country’s most northerly point, opened his business exactly a year ago and was hopeful of a busy summer season.
With nine alpacas, five of them only recently acquired, he was bringing visitors on walks alone the spectacularly scenic Knockamenny Bends.
“We’re itching to get going again and we hope August could still see us busy,” says McGonagle, who explains that alpacas are very placid animals and easy to keep.