Dublin Zoo has a very special place in the heart of most Dubliners and is consistently one of the most visited places in Ireland, though tourists make up a relatively small number of the up to 8000 people who visit daily.
The zoo is the second oldest in Europe and started life in 1830 with a small collection of animals supplied from London Zoo, but it was a pretty basic place then – it was another 60 odd years before visitors could even buy a cup of tea!
Over the last 10 years of so there have been massive improvements made to the facilities at the zoo, most importantly for the animals, who now have much better, larger and more natural enclosure than was the case in the past.
There is a very clear and welcome empahsis now on providing the right environmental conditions for each animal and on providing them with adequate space to allow them to exhibit their natural behaviour. This isn’t just good for the animals – its more interesting and less discomfiting for visitors too. The zoo is very involved in a number of breeding programmes and conservation programmes around the world and at home in Ireland.
What to see in Dublin Zoo
All the usual animals you expect are there -elephants, lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, chimpanzees etc – but there are a number of species you should make a special effort to see.
The endangered Sumatran Tiger – there are estimated to be less than 500 of these still in the wild – fixes visitors with a gaze full of seeming contempt, an attitude which is perfectly understandable from such a majestic and beautiful animal.
The Mountain Bongo, an extravagantly striped forest antelope, is another endangered species and one that few people are familiar with.
Meerkats have to be among the cutest of all animals, and the best place to see them is at the Meerkat restaurant, where you will truly be prompted to ask the question “Who’s watching who?” I’ve always loved watching the Sealions whose elegance and grace in the water, and clumsiness out of it, is ever fascinating.
The relatively new African Plains is a part of the zoo where animals live in semi-natural conditions – which means they may not always be as close as in other parts but it does give a better feel for how they live and of course is much better for them than a confined enclosure.
Baby animals are always a great draw and in 2008 the big attraction was a baby White Rhino, born in late May.
There was also a sea lion cub, a baby elephant, a baby giraffe and many young monkeys and apes, so a good year for the zoo.
In spite of all the exotic animals around them, many children in particular love the Pets Corner part of the zoo above all others. It’s a place where they can get up close and personal with animals as seemingly everyday as cats, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, donkeys, ponies and a variety of bird and fowl species. There are always plenty of babies here too, with the bonus that you will be allowed to pick them up!
Plants in the Zoo
Garden lovers will find a lot to interest them at the zoo. The planting throughout, and its maintenance, is very impressive with an abundance of native trees, shrubs and flowers as well as many rare exotic species.
If you get a chance to have a chat with one of the gardeners, do. They are very knowledgeable and the subject of special planting to replicate the natural conditions for different species of animals is not one on which you will regularly find experts!
Special and Regular Events
I grew up within a stone’s throw of Dublin Zoo, I loved it then and love it still. Not just for the place itself, but for its wonderful location in the Phoenix Park and for the particularly great people who work there. For some reason the Zoo always seems to attract great characters as staff – some of them are easily as interesting as the animals they care for!
You can meet some of the keepers at the daily “meet the keepers” sessions – pick up a schedule on your way in. These are well worth attending as learning a little more about the animals and how they are managed from people who are in close contact with them everyday is fascinating.
The zoo also has a year round programme of special events and are always happy to arrange special programmes for visiting groups.
Tips for Visiting Dublin Zoo
As one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country, it can get very crowded, especially when the weather is good. To avoid queues try to visit as early in the day as possible and avoid Sundays, easily the busiest day.
A new queuing system has been introduced, with separate lines for those paying by cash and those using credit cards – go prepared to use either and join the shortest line.
The very quickest entrance will be for holders of annual passes. For tourists this is not a viable option, but for Irish families the €150 euro annual charge will give entrance not just in Dublin but at Fota Wildlife Park in Cork, and could pay for itself with just a few visits.
Dublin Zoo is one of the attractions to which entrance is free for holders of a Dublin Pass. However unless you are combining your visit with several other attractions in the same day, it is not a cost effective way to pay for entrance.