Page last updated at 20:07 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Zoo finds WW2 'elephant angel'

Sheila the elephant
Sheila the elephant, along with Denise and her mother Irene in their backgarden in north Belfast

The Second World War 'elephant angel' of Belfast Zoo has been found.

During the Second World War, some of the zoo's more dangerous animals were killed in case the site was bombed and the animals escaped.

Sheila the elephant escaped the order and found her way to the backgarden of Denise Austin, one of the first female keepers at the zoo.

Ms Austin's cousin David Ramsey came forward after the zoo launched an appeal to find their 'elephant angel'.

"Denise was eccentric and lived in a rather exotic home in North Belfast called Loughview House," he said.

Sheila was only a night time visitor to Loughview House, during the day she stayed at the zoo under the guardianship of Head Keeper Dick Foster.

Sheila the elephant
Mr Austin takes Sheila for a walk

"Denise took Sheila from her enclosure, walked her a short distance to her house at 278 Whitewell Road, and walked her back up to the zoo in the morning," said Mr Ramsey.

It seemed zoo staff did not know about Sheila's second home until she chased after a dog into a neighbours garden, breaking the fence.

When neighbours brought the incident to the attention of the head zookeeper Sheila remained in the zoo overnight.

Denise's fondness for Sheila continued as she visited her in the zoo, particularly at night during the air raids where she rubbed her ears to keep her calm.

Ms Austin died in 1997. Mr Ramsay said "she would be tickled pink with all the attention".

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