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The story of Daisy

Daisy the elephant plays an important part in the history of Belfast Zoo.

This information has been taken from Bellevue: Belfast's Mountain Playground - Things You Didn't Know or Had Forgotten by Stewart McFetridge.

Arrival in Belfast

The zoo's first elephant, Daisy, travelled to Belfast on the Heysham steamer on 27 March 1934 (the day before the site was due to open to the public). 

When she arrived off the boat, zoo worker Manus Kane did not know how to handle Daisy. Luckily, a hooked stick with a message attached was hanging from her ear. 

The message read "lead me with this". 

Manus offered Daisy the stick, which she accepted by wrapping her trunk around it, and she walked from the docks to the Antrim Road. This was a distance of between five and six miles.

Daisy the elephant led from the docks


Journey to the zoo

During her journey, Daisy caused some mischief by scaring a baker's carthorse, causing it to bolt down York Street and scattering loaves all over the road. 

Daisy then ate the bread, making it her first meal in Belfast. 

When she got to Duncairn Gardens, the elephant decided she needed dessert. She broke into a trot and then a run, when she spied a fruit and vegetable display in a greengrocer's shop. Daisy plundered into the display and emerged with a large turnip. 

Manus Kane had to deal with another incident en route to the zoo, this time at the Shaftesbury Inn. Daisy discovered a cast-iron trough, used for watering cart horses, and, when she smelled the water she decided to take a deep drink.

She also wanted to cool off her feet so she put her front feet in the trough before squashing her back feet in as well. Daisy sat in the trough for a while, washing herself and anyone who came close to her, before completing her walk to the zoo.

Acting and circus career

Before moving to the zoo, Daisy starred on the silver screen, in a feature film called Red Wagon, which was released in 1933. 

A former circus elephant, Daisy had a wide variety of tricks, including reaching over the low barrier in her elephant house to shake the pockets and handbags of her audience for money. 

If visitors took the hint and placed an old penny on the tip of her trunk, Daisy then dropped it into a box nailed to the wall of her enclosure. The cash was then used to buy her favourite treat - sugar lumps. 

On one occasion, Daisy walked with Billy Edwards, assistant head zookeeper, and Billy Mannion, her own keeper, to Glengormley village. The group stopped in St Quentin Park (where Billy Mannion lived) and, while the men drank tea, Daisy was tethered to the gatepost where she happily reached into the garden with her trunk to pick out the plants.

Sheila's arrival

When Sheila the elephant arrived at the zoo in late 1935, the zoo decided to move Daisy to Whipsnade Zoo in London. 

After calmly walking back to the docks, where she first arrived in Belfast, the elephant began to get agitated before eventually breaking free to start the long walk back to Bellevue. 

The keepers had no option but to follow Daisy but they had a difficult time keeping pace with her (elephants can run up to 25 miles per hour). 

One theory is that Daisy suffered a very rough crossing from Heysham in 1934 and, as the old saying goes, "elephants never forget”. Perhaps she didn't want to repeat the experience. 

Daisy returned to the zoo, where she lived out her days with Sheila. She died a few years later, between late 1935 and early 1936.