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Belfast zoo searching to identity ‘Elephant Angel’

There are those who swear by keeping a model of an elephant in your house for luck. But a real elephant in your back garden?

Amazingly enough, Belfast Zoo has records showing how one local lady cared for a baby elephant in the back garden of her Belfast home at the height of the second world war.

And to mark its 75th anniversary, the zoo has launched a hunt for the identity of the lady it dubs the ‘Elephant Angel’.

A spokesman explains: “In 1941 many of the animals in the zoo were killed because of public safety fears during the Belfast blitz.

“The Ministry of Public Security ordered that 33 zoo animals be killed in case they escaped from the zoo during the air raids. These animals included one hyena, six wolves, one puma, one tiger, one black bear, two polar bears, one lynx and a giant rat.

“But Sheila, a baby elephant, was protected and taken to the home of the unknown elephant angel. Here she looked after Sheila in her back garden. It is believed she was local to north Belfast but her identity remains a mystery.”

The zoo has now issued a public appeal seeking any information as to the identity of the mystery animal lover, seen here caring for baby Sheila.

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Zoo manager Mark Challis said: “The care provided by our mystery lady is unique to zoo history and we would like to make contact with her family and properly document this gap in our past.”

If you have any information that might help the zoo find the family of the Elephant Angel, phone 028 9077 6277 or email history@belfastzoo.co.uk.

The zoo has also unearthed old newspaper cuttings revealing how 33 of the most dangerous animals had to be put down in case they escaped during air raids.

On April 19 1941, Mr A McClean, head of the Air Raid Protection section enlisted the help of Constable Ward of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and Sergeant EU Murray of the Home Guard to shoot the animals. Only one bomb ever fell near Bellevue during the Belfast Blitz, destroying part of the tramline serving the zoo.

An article in the Belfast Telegraph revealed the anguish of head keeper Dick Foster when he discovered that the animals he had cared for must die.

“He stood by with tears streaming down his face as the executioners proceeded from cage to cage and despatched the animals,” it read. “Mr McLean paid high tribute to the accurate shooting of Constable Ward and Sergeant Murray.”

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