Wednesday 16 January 2019

180 years of animal magic at the zoo

CELEBRATION: Top attraction pays tribute to its heroes

CHIMP tea parties, elephant rides, and ice-skating on the lake -- Dublin Zoo has always found new ways to entertain the capital's residents throughout its long and rich history.

The institution is celebrating its 180th anniversary this weekend by paying tribute to its heroes, the animals and their keepers.

One of the most celebrated figures of the Phoenix Park attraction is Pat Kenny's father, Jimmy Kenny, elephant keeper from 1936 until the 70s.


"Jimmy Kenny was extremely well known in Dublin, he was the only one who could look after Komeli, who was the younger elephant female," zoo historian Catherine de Courcy told the Herald.

Komeli, who arrived in 1950, gave rides to children in a chair on her back. One day she made a dash towards a group of youngsters led by a nun -- and turned over a tractor.

Jimmy was at home suffering from pneumonia, but immediately cycled into work to take care of Komeli after the incident.

"Jimmy and his father really knew elephants, and those were the days when you needed that kind of knowledge, now it's completely different, a team looks after them and they live in their own space," said Ms de Courcy. "The elephant rides were the big events up until 1961, but they had to end for all the right reasons so that they can live as a herd."

When the zoo opened in 1831, it aimed to attract the general public with its one penny entry fee.

For the first decade of its existence, the park had just 46 mammals and 72 birds that were kept on a four-acre site, yet over 100,000 people turned up every year.

It has now spread to a 28 hectare park with 600 animals -- and with nearly one million visitors last year, it has become the most popular fee-paying attraction in the country.

"Dublin Zoo managed to survive three really tough times, the famine, the First World War, and the period at the end of the 80s to early 90s," Ms de Courcy said.

"Two decades or so ago, the zoo was a week away from closing and there was a huge response from the public. Eventually Bertie Ahern, who was the local TD at the time, got the zoo a grant. And that's when it really picked up."


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