Wednesday 23 October 2019

Lynne Kelleher: Zookeepers from all over the world are flying to Dublin to discover the secret to the remarkable fertility of its thriving elephant herd

Dublin Zoo's latest arrival. Picture: Patrick Bolger
Dublin Zoo's latest arrival. Picture: Patrick Bolger

Lynne Kelleher

Zookeepers from all over the world are flying to Dublin to discover the secret to the remarkable fertility of its thriving elephant herd.

There are now a dozen elephants in Phoenix Park after the addition of nine calves in almost as many years.

The remarkable baby boom among the herd has keepers from all over the world arriving at the Irish zoo to find out how they have made giant footsteps in the care of one of the most loved creatures on the planet.

Dublin Zoo's head keeper, Gerry Creighton, has been as far as China, India and the US imparting their methods which have produced a contented herd with one of the biggest group of calves born so close together in a family-related herd outside of the wild.

He said: "Hundreds of keepers have visited from all over the world to see what we're doing and to take away the Dublin philosophy, the Dublin way.

"It's right up there to have nine calves born consistently within the herd and to have no losses or deaths is very significant. It's an incredible rate. There is no other zoo in the world with seven calves under five."

At the start of the noughties, Dublin Zoo was still operating an old-school system in a 1950s house with a concrete floor. When the zoo replaced human contact and bull hooks with the sandy Kaziranga Forest Trail which simulates the wild, the effect on fertility was almost immediate.

"We've witnessed new life tumble onto the sand floor nine times," said Gerry Creighton.

"It's beautiful to witness. It's greeted with increasing levels of excitement and all family members are involved.

"To see the older females guide the younger females in when a calf drops to the floor is incredible because we've recorded all these births. It's elephants teaching elephants.

"It's a very unique situation, over the last 12 years, the elephant family has now gone from three to 12 individuals. We've elephants ranging from one year to 35, 36 years old. Our zoo is right at the forefront of showing these incredibly iconic animals can do well in a modern zoo."

Sunday Independent

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