Tina, the Asian elephant, familiar to several generations of Derry animal lovers as Belfast Zoo’s oldest resident, has died.
Tina, aged 54, collapsed in the early hours of the morning on Sunday, November 5, 2017.
Zoo manager, Alyn Cairns, said: “This is a very difficult time for the whole zoo team as we are mourning the loss of our longest resident.
“Tina was a very much-loved member of the zoo family and has a special place in the hearts of all the staff and also many generations of visitors who have visited her at Belfast Zoo.
“Our focus now is on supporting our dedicated staff, many of whom have been by Tina’s side for well over 20 years.
“The bonds between an elephant herd are also extremely strong and we have therefore made the decision to close the elephant and giraffe walk for the next few days to give Yhetto and Dhunja the chance to grieve.”
Tina arrived at Belfast Zoo on June 14, 1966 from Tyseley Pet Store in Birmingham and was Belfast Zoo’s longest resident.
The cost of shipping an elephant was £20 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 at 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 also 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 the largest and most expensive house was the elephant and giraffe house. It officially opened on May 27, 1988 and this became Tina’s new home.
Tina lived with a number of elephants over the years but was most recently joined by Yhetto and Dhunja, in 2009, when the decision was made for Belfast Zoo to become a retirement home for these iconic animals.
Alyn continued: “A number of years ago we made the decision to become a ‘sanctuary’ and retirement home for a herd of elderly non-breeding females, some from difficult backgrounds.
“We were aware of the responsibilities that came with caring for these older elephants and although we are all deeply saddened by Tina’s death, we are delighted to have known and cared for Tina throughout the years. She will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her but we are also incredibly grateful for all of the fantastic memories.”
Tina was one of the oldest elephants in the European breeding programme. Belfast Zoo’s elephant sanctuary is an ideal place to care for older elephants, with soft sand to walk on and daily care including mud baths and pedicures.