Page last updated at 05:32 GMT, Tuesday, 16 June 2009 06:32 UK

Zoo in hat trick with seal births

Sea lions
Highly social and intelligent, there are now three more baby seals at the zoo

It's not quite a baby boom, but three sea lion pups have been born at Belfast Zoo within a week of each other.

Born to Stella, Holly and Ariel. the pups' arrival brings the number of Californian sea lions in the zoo to 14.

Their father, Wesley, is 19 years old and was brought to Belfast in 2007 from Woburn Safari Park in England.

The zoo has a successful record in breeding Californian sea lions with three born last year. All remain with the zoo's sea lion group.

In the autumn. they will move as part of an international zoo exchange to Xiangjiang Safari Park, the largest animal park in the Quangshou region of China.

Snickers the sea lion, born in 2007, has moved to Rotterdam Zoo as part of the European breeding programme.

Since 2005 the zoo has had 10 sea lion births. Curator Andrew Hope said they take part in the breeding programme to support the species and to ensure their future.

"Sea lions are a highly social and intelligent species and are well adapted to a semi-aquatic life-style," he said.

"They can use their front flippers and are particularly agile on land as they can control their back flippers as well."

Their main threat in the wild is from fishermen who regard them as a competitor for fish stocks.

They are hunted for their skins and blubber and water pollution is increasingly becoming a threat to their habitats, but they are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, which monitors species conservation.



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