Dublin Zoo stands as Ireland’s biggest zoo at 28 hectares and is also recognised as Ireland’s biggest family attraction. It also holds the distinction of being the fourth oldest public zoo in the world, ranking below the zoos in London, Paris, and Vienna. A number of different kinds of animals and habitats are featured across the Phoenix Park-based zoo for its attendees to view and even interact with in certain cases at their own leisure.
Dublin Zoo was founded in 1831 on four acres of land in Phoenix Park, initially featuring monkeys, lions, leopards, bears and parrots at the time. From 1831 onwards, the zoo began procuring other animals like an elephant in 1836 from the London Zoo and an aquarium on-site with assorted sea life. The zoo was at first only accessible privately to members of the Zoological Society of Ireland, but then became open to the public in 1840.
The zoo is noted for its lion breeding program in particular and since 1857, more than 700 lions have been bred in Dublin Zoo, when they have only been bred successfully in captivity in very few locations worldwide. The most famous resident is believed to be the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) lion, the mascot of MGM whose birth was supposedly in 1919. His famous roar was said to be recorded in the 1930s, and was named Cairbre after Cú Chulainn’s charioteer.
Going into the twentieth century, Dublin Zoo continued to grow in animal diversity and Irish troops serving in British colonies brought in giraffes, baboons, and snow leopards. Also coming into the zoo around the start of World War I at the time as being especially significant in the zoo’s eyes were a gorilla, a chimpanzee, an orangutan and a gibbon. This initially marked a “golden period” for the Dublin Zoo until a time of turbulence and hardship hit it during both World War I and II, barely getting by off funding from the pockets of the Zoological Society of Ireland.
After that troubled period in the 1950s and 60s, the zoo began to flourish again in popularity. This is because the animal market began to open up again after World War II, and Dublin Zoo took advantage of that to include rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and giraffes to its repertoire of animals. It was especially popular for family occasions with its inclusion of elephant rides, chimpanzee tea parties, lion feeding time, pets’ corner, and pony rides to list some new features at the time.
Regarding the 1970s then, the practice of buying and selling animals began to slowly stop altogether. This had a negative impact on Dublin Zoo at first, leading it to further educate its zookeepers and experts and make changes to the way the zoo is designed to better accommodate all the animals. Animal conservation also became another key focus for Dublin Zoo too, with their team also taking on bookkeepers to manage species across zoos, including breeding and establishing standards for animal care and husbandry.
Moving onto the 1980s, Dublin Zoo was falling behind global standards of zoos worldwide in terms of resources. In turn, the zoo ran the risk of facing closure when it was coming up to 1990. However, public support and governmental investment kept the zoo from closing, giving Dublin Zoo the opportunity to improve its infrastructure and animal enclosure facilities. Later in 1997, Mary McAleese, the President at the time, granted the society use of the land and a lake that was formerly a part of Áras an Uachtaráin.
Within the twenty-first century and towards present day, Dublin Zoo is still a popular and beloved zoo across Ireland. It began further developments and expansion, such as in 2007 when the Kaziranga Forest Trail for the elephants was introduced to also accommodate elephants coming in from Rotterdam Zoo. A focus on animal conservation and breeding programmes were also key to these developments, with further funding being provided to the zoo to develop it as it is today. Although it experienced setbacks during its closure around 2020 temporarily due to Covid-19 restrictions and animal mistreatment allegations in 2022, the Dublin Zoo is still fully open to all visitors.
Image: Dublin Zoo
The layout of Dublin Zoo is divided into 36 different sections, each containing different animal exhibitions. Amenities for first aid, toilets, food, and children’s play areas are plotted throughout the space of the zoo for easy access at all times. Maps like the one pictured above are placed throughout the zoo to ensure visitors do not lose their way as they take in all the sights.
Over 400 animals live at Dublin Zoo, and its breeding programs are not exclusive to just lions, but are also dedicated to increasing the populations of rare and endangered species, like the snow leopard. A variety of tropical animals roam their areas in unbarred enclosures designed to replicate the natural environment as closely as possible. Arctic species make their homes in the lakes located near the reptile house. In total, the 28-hectare zoo contains more than 235 species of wild animals and tropical birds.
Zoo Exhibits and Animals
Dublin Zoo’s grounds can be explored by visitors at their own pace or else by a guided tour. It has ten habitats in total that its animals are all divided in, which include The Himalayan Hills, Wolves in the Woods, and The African Savanna as part of these ten habitats the zoo has. The extremely popular African Plains section of the zoo operates the Nakuru Safari Tour, a 25-minute journey through a savannah where giraffes and lions roam along with other animals from the Serengeti.
The South America House is a strikingly ornate structure housing some of the more exotic species, including golden lion tamarins, two-toed sloths, and squirrel monkeys. For refreshments, visitors go to the Lakeside Café for drinks and ice cream in summer, and take advantage of numerous picnic areas, playgrounds, and gift shops scattered throughout the zoo. Other restaurants/cafes are also available around the zoo, such as The Chicken Hut, Nakuru Café, and the Meerkat Restaurant where you can also visit the meerkats resident in Dublin Zoo.
From its entrance to its exit, the animals are featured within all of its 36 sections. One of the first animals the zoo features is the Bornean orangutan. More specifically, the Dublin Zoo has a subspecies of this type of primate known as the Northwest Borenan orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus), found originally in. These types of orangutans can live as long as 50 to 60 years old, and feed on over 400 different types of plants under a herbivore diet. They are provided with a forest-like area to roam around, as well as ropes to freely climb and swing around on to make the orangutans feel more at home (as shown below).
Image: Dublin Zoo
Another example of an animal featured in the zoo is the Humboldt penguin. Located by the sea lions, the Humboldt penguins are penguins that originate from the warmer climates of Peru and Chile’s rocky coasts. They eat other sea life as predators, including sardines, anchovies, squid, crab, and shrimp as part of their diet. These penguins can live as long as 15 to 20 years, and have patches of bare skin on their faces (around their beaks) that blush under high temperatures, which helps them to cool down (which is seen below).
Image: Dublin Zoo
To arrange your visit today, be sure to click here and look at the official website for more information.
Monday – Sunday: 9.30am – 6.00pm
African Plains closes at 5.30pm
Last admission is 5.00pm