Mystery solved of elephant in Belfast back yard

A mystery Belfast woman who cared for a baby elephant in her back garden during the war years has finally been identified.

The ‘elephant angel’ was Denise Weston Austin, who was one of the first female zoo keepers in Belfast Zoo.



Along with her mother Irene, Denise took baby elephant Sheila in to her north Belfast home after it escaped an order to euthanize some of the more dangerous animals at the zoo.



Nine lions, two tigers and a number of bears and wolves were killed on the orders of the Ministry of Public Security because of fears that they would escape and threaten the public if the zoo was damaged in a German bombing raid.



Earlier this week the zoo - which is celebrating its 75th anniversary - launched a campaign to find the mystery owner and, through a surviving relative, have found more information on her identity.



Her second cousin, David Ramsey from Belfast, described her as an “eccentric” lady who lived in an exotic home in north Belfast called Loughview House.



Mr Ramsey also said that Sheila the elephant only lived with Ms Austin in the evening.



He said: “When the Head Keeper, Dick Foster, left work, Denise took Sheila from her enclosure, walked her a short distance to her house at Whitewell Road, and walked her back up to the zoo in the morning, sometimes stopping at a shop, the Thrones Stores, on the Whitewell road for stale bread.



“It was also known in the area that she took Sheila for evening walks. During the night Sheila slept in the Austin’s garage.



“Sheila was given hay from the family farm, which was of a much better quality than the zoo could provide during an era of rationing.”



Sheila managed to stay hidden due to the large walls which surrounded the house, and zoo staff were not aware of her second home until she chased a dog into a neighbours garden, breaking the fence.



Neighbours brought the incident to the attention of the Head Keeper, whereupon Sheila had to remain in the zoo. Denise continued to visit Sheila in the zoo, particularly at night during Luftwaffe air raids, when she rubbed her ears to keep her calm.



Ms Austin died in 1997, but her cousin said he believed she would have been “tickled pink with all the attention”.

This article is from The Belfast Telegraph

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...