Tips from one of the zoo’s elephant men

by Ian Begley
0 comment

AS A senior zookeeper working with eight elephants in Dublin Zoo, Donal Lynch’s average work day is far from a typical day at the office.

He said: “I’ll typically be in work about 8am just to touch base with everyone, so that we can hit the ground running at 8.30am.
“If I’m lucky enough I’ll be in the elephant house while they are still sleeping, so that’s a wonderful way to start the working day.”
An initial feed means giving branches the size of small trees to the elephants – one bull, three females, and three calves who arrived this summer .
“I’ll call them in for their training and health checks, but if they don’t want to come then they won’t,” he said, noting Dublin Zoo’s unique approach to elephant care.
The elephants learn to respond to commands to make it possible for the zookeepers to do this through positive reinforcement – a sliced apple is offered as a reward.
“I’ve trained Bernadine, the matriarch of the herd, since 2006 when she arrived. I definitely have a certain fondness for her now,” said Donal.
“I ask her to salute – this makes them raise their trunks and her mouth will automatically open,” he added.
A teammate will then check her temperature. When the morning training and grooming is complete, the grunt work begins for the nine-strong team who look after the elephants.
“Then it’s time to pick up the dung and essentially make the elephant’s beds.”
Elephants sleep on mounds of sand, which must be cleaned, dug up and reshaped every day.
“That’s definitely the less glamorous part of my day,” joked the zookeeper.
Feeding also takes up a huge part of the day for Lynch. Elephants can eat up to 20 kilos of food daily, and the keepers must provide food in ways that challenges them like it would in the wild.
“Between all that, every day at 12.30pm, I do the Meet The Keeper talk for the visitors. It’s a great chance to chat with people and maybe change their minds about how animals are kept and looked after,” said Donal.
Later on, 5.30pm is quitting time for the keepers and for Marino-based Donal, it’s just a 20-minute cycle home, where he takes charge of another crew of animals.
“We have cats, dogs, snakes and lizards at home. My wife, Lisa, is a veterinary nurse and her work has come home and stayed home occasionally.
“So, it’s about 7pm before I’ll sit down to dinner and relax,” said Donal.
However, for the animal lover, his daily routine will soon see a big change – the couple are expecting their first child any day now.

Related Articles