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History highlights

The story of Daisy

Daisy the elephant plays an important part in the history of Belfast Zoo.

This information has been taken from Bellevue: Belfast's Mountain Playground - Things You Didn't Know or Had Forgotten by Stewart McFetridge.

Arrival in Belfast

The zoo's first elephant, Daisy, travelled to Belfast on the Heysham steamer on 27 March 1934 (the day before the site was due to open to the public). 

When she arrived off the boat, zoo worker Manus Kane did not know how to handle Daisy. Luckily, a hooked stick with a message attached was hanging from her ear. 

The message read "lead me with this". 

Manus offered Daisy the stick, which she accepted by wrapping her trunk around it, and she walked from the docks to the Antrim Road. This was a distance of between five and six miles.

Journey to the zoo

During her journey, Daisy caused some mischief by scaring a baker's carthorse, causing it to bolt down York Street and scattering loaves all over the road. 

Daisy then ate the bread, making it her first meal in Belfast. 

When she got to Duncairn Gardens, the elephant decided she needed dessert. She broke into a trot and then a run when she spied a fruit and vegetable display in a greengrocer's shop. Daisy plundered into the display and emerged with a large turnip. 

Manus Kane had to deal with another incident en route to the zoo, this time at the Shaftesbury Inn. Daisy discovered a cast-iron trough, used for watering cart horses, and, when she smelled the water, she decided to take a deep drink.

She also wanted to cool off her feet, so she put her front feet in the trough before squashing her back feet in as well. Daisy sat in the trough for a while, washing herself and anyone who came close to her, before completing her walk to the zoo.

Acting and circus career

Before moving to the zoo, Daisy starred on the silver screen, in a feature film called Red Wagon, which was released in 1933. 

A former circus elephant, Daisy had a wide variety of tricks, including reaching over the low barrier in her elephant house to shake the pockets and handbags of her audience for money. 

If visitors took the hint and placed an old penny on the tip of her trunk, Daisy then dropped it into a box nailed to the wall of her enclosure. The cash was then used to buy her favourite treat - sugar lumps. 

On one occasion, Daisy walked with Billy Edwards, assistant head zookeeper, and Billy Mannion, her own keeper, to Glengormley village. The group stopped in St Quentin Park (where Billy Mannion lived) and, while the men drank tea, Daisy was tethered to the gatepost where she happily reached into the garden with her trunk to pick out the plants.

Sheila's arrival

When Sheila the elephant arrived at the zoo in late 1935, the zoo decided to move Daisy to Whipsnade Zoo in London. 

After calmly walking back to the docks, where she first arrived in Belfast, the elephant began to get agitated before eventually breaking free to start the long walk back to Bellevue. 

The keepers had no option but to follow Daisy, but they had a difficult time keeping pace with her (elephants can run up to 25 miles per hour). 

One theory is that Daisy suffered a very rough crossing from Heysham in 1934 and, as the old saying goes, "elephants never forget”. Perhaps she didn't want to repeat the experience. 

Daisy returned to the zoo, where she lived out her days with Sheila. She died a few years later, between late 1935 and early 1936.

Tina the elephant

Belfast Zoo’s longest resident

Tina arrived at Belfast Zoo on 14 June 1966 from Tyseley Pet Store in Birmingham and was Belfast Zoo’s longest resident until she sadly passed away in November 2017. 

The cost of shipping an elephant was £20 in 1966 and at that time, it was necessary to provide three bales of hay, half a sack of oats, half sack of bran and eight large loaves for the journey.

When Tina first arrived in Belfast, she measured one metre in height and weighed about 150 kilograms. During those first few months, a keeper slept with her to keep her company and feed her during the night. For the first few years Tina had a daily walk with her keepers until she became too large.

Tina became well-known for her mischievous behaviour in the zoo. She was notorious for stealing and eating visitors’ items, including handbags, coats, gloves, school bags and cameras. She destroyed lawnmowers and had a penchant for picking locks in the old zoo. Tina also displayed a sensitive side and often rescued small birds and frogs that got into her enclosure.

When the ‘new zoo’ was developed in the late 1970s, the largest and most expensive house was the elephant and giraffe house. It officially opened on 27 May 1988 and this became Tina’s new home. 

Tina was joined by Yhetto from Krefeld Zoo, Germany and later by ex-circus elephants Jenny and Dhunja from Hannover Zoo. Sadly, Jenny passed away in 2013, aged 53. 

Tina was pampered at our zoo. In 2010, a mud bath made with 40 tonnes of clay was added to the elephants’ enclosure, as one of many ways to pamper the zoo’s largest residents. Tina also received regular pedicures and had her skin moisturised often. 

On Sunday 5 November 2017, Tina collapsed in the early hours of the morning. The zoo team and veterinary staff, along with assistance from Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service, worked tirelessly with Tina throughout the morning. However, the extremely difficult decision was made to put Tina to sleep.

Tina was one of the oldest elephants in the European breeding programme. 

Manager's memories - Alyn Cairns

I have worked at Belfast Zoo since 1988. I first started as a keeper in the old zoo site where I first met our lovely lady. She was such a mischievous character and I, like all of the other staff and visitors, formed a quick attachment to Tina. In 1998 I became the curator of the elephant section and in the subsequent years, with working so closely with her, my bond with Tina strengthened even further.      

Over the past 30 years and throughout my career in the zoo I have seen many changes, but there was always one constant, and that was Tina the elephant.  Her life spanned nearly six decades, and this is a great tribute to all the excellent care she received from keeping staff over those many years. She was part of the development of the new zoo site, she was part of our breeding herd when we bred Vishesh, in recent years we celebrated her 50th birthday and she was also the founding member of her sanctuary for elderly female elephants.

I consider myself very lucky to have known Tina and formed such a strong relationship with her.  She has been an important part of my life and I feel like I have grown up alongside Tina.  It is genuinely like losing a member of the family, but I am incredibly grateful for the memories and the times that we shared together. Tina will be greatly missed but we have been incredibly lucky to share her journey.

Your memories

Over the past six decades, Tina became an important character in the heritage of both Belfast Zoo and the city. We asked you to share your memories of Tina over the years and you didn’t disappoint:

  • Jessica Dane: When I was little, around 7 years old, at Christmas you could wrap a present for the elephants then go down into the walkway and feed them.  I had the upmost honour and delight to feed Tina an orange, she took it out of my hand.  I’ll always remember it.  I’m now 20 and studying animal behaviour and welfare.
  • Charn Anderson When we took our daughter to the zoo for the first time, she was very excited to see an elephant.  When we went into the elephant house there was Tina, but our daughter ran out crying.  In her ABC book there were pictures of an elephant, a dog, and more animals that were all the same size, so she wasn’t expecting Tina to be so big!  After her initial shock, she came back in and Tina became a family favourite!
  • Una Gillespie Tina was a name mentioned all the time in our house for about three years.  During a visit to the zoo about nine years ago with my two boys, my youngest picked a lavender smelling elephant teddy in the gift shop which my eldest named Tina.  His Tina then became his comfort, he rubbed her label and took her everywhere, wouldn’t sleep without her.  She had been stitched together more times than I could count over the years.  He took such wonder and interest in elephants and every visit to the zoo he still gets excited to see Tina.  Tina the teddy and Tina the elephant will always have a special place in our hearts and will never be forgotten.
  • Elaine Whiteside I remember when we were able to feed Tina buns!  I’m also in my 50s so I have seen Tina many times over the years and my children and grandchildren also visited her and her family.  She was definitely my favourite.
  • Cara Coyle McElwee Tina has always been a favourite with our family and we try to arrive in time to help feed the elephants.  The kids getting to feed Tina a carrot was always the highlight of our many visits to see her.
  • Joanne McConnell When I was young I had fruit for Tina.  I put it in my handbag which my granny had given me, so I reached out to get her a bit of fruit.  The next thing she had hooked up the bag.  The keeper got it back but not before she took the rest of the fruit.  She will be sorely missed.
  • Ida Sloan I remember her eating a wee girl’s straw basket with an Easter egg in it.
  • Brian Willis 1982 and we were recording a TV programme at the zoo.  It was a three-day shoot and at the end of the first day the riggers laid out the cables near Tina’s enclosure ready for the next morning.  The following day we arrived to find Tina had carefully balanced on all four legs precariously on the edge of her moat to drag the cables into her enclosure and had chewed them into amass of shredded spaghetti (I kept a piece as a souvenir).  Some of the large brass connectors were also missing but I am told they ‘turned up later’.  Bye bye Tina, you gave us a good laugh.

If you have any photographs, videos or stories about your zoo memories please, email, post them on our social media or you can post them to Belfast Zoo, Antrim Road, Belfast, BT36 7PN.

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