Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today trumpeted a new rainforest home for Dublin Zoo’s elephants before packing his trunk for his 11-week Dáil holidays.
As TDs finish up in Leinster House next week, Mr Ahern is expected to charge to the Galway Races before his usual summer sojourn in West Kerry.
Today he jokingly apologised for missing the first birth of an elephant in Ireland in May “because of a little matter I had to take care of”.
Mr Ahern’s personal finances may have been the ’elephant in the room’ during the first half of Fianna Fáil’s election campaign but a late stampede by voters to the polls helped him secure his third term.
After Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael trounced smaller parties in the election, one strategist quipped: “When elephants dance, the grass gets trampled.”
But the election was far from Mr Ahern’s mind today as he opened Dublin Zoo’s Kaziranga Forest Trail habitat which includes water pools and dense vegetation.
The 8,000 square metre enclosure will house Bernhardine, 23, Yasmin, 17, Anak, 4 and Bernhardine’s two-month-old baby calf.
Zoo director Leo Oosterweghel said he wanted to achieve a natural environment that entirely met the needs of the intelligent, social animals.
“They have plenty of space and pools to bathe in whenever they choose.
For visitors it will be a real journey of discovery as they find their way through tunnels of foliage and winding paths into the elephant habitat.“
Elephants are among the most popular animals at the Phoenix Park attraction and are certain to boost visitor numbers in coming weeks.
A heavily-pregnant Bernhardine, Yasmin and Anak arrived from Rotterdam Zoo to Dublin in October last year and were immediately put into quarantine.
The first ever elephant birth in Ireland occurred on May 7 and Dublin Zoo has organised a national competition to name the calf.
Mr Ahern said that Dublin Zoo was one of the best in Europe and it can become one of the best in the world.
“The elephants may be thousands of miles from their original homeland, but you have created a realistic habitat that is both stimulating and enriching while also meeting their biological needs,” he added.
He remarked that zoos like Dublin’s are taking a leading role in animal conservation and ensuring generations to come can continue to share the planet with a vast array of creatures.
The Taoiseach said the arrival of the new elephant calf in May provides a great opportunity for the zoo staff to gain new insights into the lives and behaviours of the animals.