Page last updated at 10:46 GMT, Thursday, 22 January 2009

Elephants pack trunks for zoo

Alan Roocroft, (right) consulting with Belfast Zoo keeper Peter Cross, (left) on the best foot care for 44-year-old Tina the elephant

Belfast Zoo is to become a "retirement home" for female elephants.

The zoo is already home to 44-year-old Tina, and she will soon be joined by other elderly, non-breeding female elephants.

The zoo said it was likely that some of the elephants would be from a circus background.

In preparation, international elephant expert Alan Roocroft is spending four days with the elephant team at the zoo to advise on the challenges of elephant retirement.

Mr Roocroft has over 46 years experience in managing elephants, including 19 years in the world famous, San Diego Wild Animal Park and Zoo.

"We want to create habitats for our elderly females. I am using my knowledge to create an environment with more enrichment activity," he said.

In 2008, the zoo implemented a form of contact with elephants known as protective contact.

This gives elephant's complete freedom of movement within the confines of the enclosure and means a zoo keeper and elephant never share the same space and all contact is received through protective barriers.

Alyn Cairns, curator of elephants, said the decision to house the elephants was not taken lightly.

"The care of elephants is evolutionary and the techniques used to enhance elephant comfort in captivity are changing," he said.

"Older elephants bring new challenges such as health management, behavioural patterns and training.

"The judgement and knowledge of our keepers becomes ever more important when caring for animals in their later years".

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