Tyrone’s first safari park opened last weekend to much controversy about the lack of animals on display and mistreatment of some of the creatures. The 150 acre ‘Lion Thrills in Sion Mills’ Safari Park, which opened just a week ago, is based in Sion Mills close to Strabane, just off the Melmount Road. It is described on the website as being:
‘set in the lush savannah of the Tyrone grasslands where animals are free to roam in their natural habitat, bordered by the meandering Mourne River, the metropolis of Sion Mills, and the Strabane sewage works’.
There have however been numerous complaints from visitors.
“It’s a rip-off”, declared father-of-two Ronan Gormley of Coagh. “We drove about for nearly two hours and saw nothing other than some rabbits and a horse. Call that a safari park? It’s just a big field”.
The heavily promoted ‘Tyrone Zebra’ in particular brought severe criticism, which was described in the zoo’s literature as ‘A slightly rotund breed of zebra having distinctive elliptical or circular black and white markings unlike the striped pattern of its African cousin’.
“It was a fecking cow” said an irate Gormley. “Anyone could see that. Tyrone Zebra my arse. The park was bare”.
Owner and manager Malachy Mullan was quick to defend the park:
“What do you expect? By the time the tourists get here the animals are taking shelter from the sweltering heat of the midday Strabane sun. Too hot and bright for them in May, see? If people want to see the animals they should come back when it’s pitch black”.
Mary McCausland of Fintona was not convinced.
“The so-called ‘big cat’ looked an awful lot like a fat labrador with a big orange woolly scarf round its neck. It didn’t look happy. And anyone can buy an ostrich from that farm near Loughmacrory. It looked ill. It’s a disgrace”.
Mullan vigorously defended his record in the treatment of animals.
“I don’t mistreat animals. I’ve been donating to sick animals for years. I love the critters. They’re my life” said the adamant park-keeper, who also owns the Donaghmore slaughterhouse.
Doubt has also been cast over some of the creatures advertised, which include a white rhino, a ‘rare breed of dodo’ and a dragon.
Mullan also later admitted that the ‘sick animals’ he donated to were predominantly horses that he backed without success at Paddy Power in Strabane.
A Brocagh bulb-fitter, Dessie Davidson, yesterday claimed to have beaten off a ‘baste of a shark’ during a charity swim on St Stephen’s Day in Roughan Lough, just outside Newmills. Roughan officials are now investigating the incident and have warned people not to take to the lough unless they feel confident of beating a shark in a scuffle. Davidson, 46, was reportedly shaken up after the incident but has since managed to calm his nerves with an ‘unmerciful feed of stout’.
“Jays it was deadly like. I was swimming away, raising money for the new Mountjoy Donkey Sanctuary, when I felt a presence behind me. I turned and before I knew it I was in a full blown fist-fight with this shark. I don’t think it was local. It was pummelling away with its big leathery fins but I was giving it as good as I got. It was like punching leather at times and I could hear the yelps out of it after I dished out an uppercut or kidney punch. We both drew blood but it swam off first so I’d say I got the better of it. It was a traumatic experience and I’ve been on the batter since. I don’t think it was a swan. Nearly sure about that.”
Although there were no witnesses, Newmills knitting expert Greta Gordon (88) contacted the BBC last night to relate the story of being attacked by a dragon in the grounds of the castle last year during the Chinese New Year festivities. Roughan Castle Security Officals remain sceptical about the incident and maintain it could be Harry Campbell from Brackaville larking about in the shark costume he said he was getting for Christmas.
“No one has been beheaded in the castle since 1641. However, that could change if we find out Davidson was full drunk at the time and just got tangled up in seaweed,” claimed Lough manager Sir William Churchbottom.
He also announced that you can buy ‘I saw the Roughan shark’ mugs and tshirts up at the lough from today.