Belfast Zoo's largest residents are enjoying a huge new mudbath – thanks to the rerouting of a river on the other side of the city.
Fourteen lorry-loads of clay have been donated for the new Asian elephant mudbath from the Knock River at Orangefield Park in east Belfast, where earthworks have been carried out as a part of a scheme that will protect 1,700 homes from flooding.
Some 40,000 tonnes of earth have been moved since last May to create a new river channel and flood plain as part of the £35 million Connswater Community Greenway project – and some of that clay has ended up in Belfast Zoo.
The clay was donated to provide a new spa treatment for the three elderly female elephants.
Tina, Dhunja and Yhetto already receive regular pedicures and skin moisturising sessions, so this mudbath will be a welcome addition to their enclosure, which was transformed into a sanctuary for older elephants in 2008.
Zoo curator Alyn Cairns said he was delighted with the mud bath.
"When you work in a zoo, you begin to see the world around you slightly differently. Instead of driving by a local park and seeing renovations, you begin to see potential elephant mud baths!" he said.
"I made contact with the Orangefield Park team and, although I'm sure my request was out of the ordinary, they couldn't have been more accommodating."
Wendy Langham, programme manager for the Connswater Community Greenway, said: "We were delighted when asked to muck in and help the elephants at Belfast Zoo."
The diversion of the river will help provide flood protection for properties nearby, including Orangefield Park, Orangefield Green and Sandhill Park.
And the flood plain will provide a natural wildflower habitat, attracting wildlife back and even the return of fish to the river.
The plain will provide an outdoor classroom for schools and will be skirted by a new path network.
Asian elephants inhabit tropical forests. Their trunks, unique among living mammals, enable them to reach the ground, manipulate tiny objects or tear down huge trees, squirt water over their backs or into their mouths, or blow dirt on to their backs during dust baths. Despite their enormous size, elephants are able to walk silently.