I moved here a few years ago from Atlanta, Georgia and started working at Dublin Zoo.

We’ve had six new calves here in the last three years. All those babies were born here so that makes them Irish! But really, Ireland has fantastic weather for Asian elephants because they like mild rainy days. Sometimes you will even see them going swimming more on rainy days.

Christina Murphy. Images: Dublin Zoo

I feel very fortunate that I work with the elephants. They’re very high-maintenance – but in a good way.

Elephants are extremely intelligent, they learn very quickly

Our philosophy for taking care of them is one of “protective contact”. What we do is we train them to do things, like present their feet to us, so we can give them pedicures. All of this is done in a protective context – so we don’t go in there with the elephants. We would ask the elephants to stick their leg out a porthole in the wall.

Basically there are two different styles of management: you go in or you stay out. When you go in there with them the approach is more based on negative reinforcement: you have a hook and you are more dominant. We don’t believe in that, so we go with the positive approach and we stay outside of their area. The protective approach means a more stress-free life for the herd but it also has benefits for us. Elephants are big animals and there’s always a risk that comes with that.

A baby elephant birth at Dublin Zoo!

All our training and healthcare is done through positive reinforcement. So, we ask for “a behaviour”, and we reward it. Each task is broken into small steps and as each step is achieved the elephant is rewarded with a special treat. They are extremely intelligent, they learn very quickly. We get to know each of them and what their favourite foods are. Asoka loves bananas and Anaka loves apples.

So we had the idea of using a water-gun to spray milk into the calf’s mouth. You have to come up with different creative solutions. But to see the babies grow and gain weight was very rewarding. Particularly so when you don’t interfere with the herd dynamics.

It’s impossible not to get emotionally attached to the animals when you are so involved in their nurture and wellbeing.

Christina Murphy was talking to Kevin Barrington

The Typewriter Shop

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You stroll in the door and you walk back in time... Back into a world of Victorian exotica. With the polished wood, the old brass fittings and the glass cases, you feel enveloped in the comfort you find in a good old pub. But this isn’t a pub. This is a place of learning. Or to be more precise, this is a place of fun. This is the “Dead Zoo” or as it is more formally called, The Museum of Natural History. Situated between Leinster House and the Attorney General’s Office, this is a real gem of a museum. It’s been going now for some 160 years and not only is it one of the oldest public museums in the country, it’s also one of the most popular. Each year some 320,000 people visit the museum and enjoy all its Victorian charms for free. “Yes it’s free in,” Education Officer of Archaeology and Natural History, Siobhán Pierce exclaims proudly. Siobhán is joined by the Education Assistant, Geraldine Breen.

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