Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Irish Eyes


By Mattie Lennon

Raised by The Zoo and Pure Reflections

"Until one has loved an animal, part of one's soul remains unawakened." (Anatole France.)

I promised that I would tell you more about a wonderful book and a great man- who loves all animals- in November. Well, here it is, “You spend a lifetime with an animal, sometimes more than you spend with your own family,” The words of Gerry Creighton, aged 54, who was a former elephant keeper and operations manager at Dublin Zoo and has now gone onto the world (animal) stage. “It’s very hard not to have a relationship with animals,” he says. Of elephants he says, “For so long we didn’t understand them. They mourn death, they celebrate life, they’re intimate with one another, and they’re intelligent, empathetic, compassionate and kind.”

His new book Raised by the Zoo is part-memoir of his life, much of which has been spent in and around the zoo and part-manifesto for the future of elephant care around the world. Gerry is no stranger to the media. He was the face of RTÉ's series The Zoo, in which his articulate and down-to-earth, charming manner brought the viewer behind-the-scenes to see the ups and downs of life in the zoo. He is regularly approached in his native city and further afield by those who refer to him as “the man from the zoo”.

“Since the show first aired in 2010, Dublin Zoo has welcomed more than one million visitors a year”, he says, lamenting that the unpredictable weather over the summer has threatened that milestone.

Between Gerry, his brother and his father they have more than a century of experience at Dublin Zoo. “I don’t ever remember not being in the zoo,” he says. “My father, Gerry Sr, who was a general curator here and worked his way up from a cat keeper, brought me up here as a young boy when I was two or three years old.” Gerry Sr worked at the zoo for 51 years and met his future wife in the restaurant there, where she worked. One day on his way to feed some animals – bucket in hand – he asked her out. “She refused,” he says. “A bucket of mackerel is probably the most unromantic gesture ever – but listen, the rest is history.”

“You spend a lifetime with an animal, sometimes more than you spend with your own family,” says Gerry Snr. Gerry Junior grew up in Stoneybatter, just off Manor Street. When he was growing up, his peers were often engaged in petty crime and fell into substance abuse. Instead of pursuing that path, he put his time into animals and boxing. He was the Irish under-18s middleweight champion at one point in the 1980s. On one occasion he visited Mountjoy Prison to give a talk on animals. The prison officers warned him that the inmates might be tough on him, he says. “When I walked in all I hear is: ‘Hi Gerry.’ ‘Howya, Gerry!’ They were all guys I knew from school, all high-fiving me ... We were from the same area but [had] very different career opportunities.” The kind and compassionate Gerry writes In his book, “Those lads were no different to me – they just didn’t get the opportunities I had.”

Gerry Junior and his wife Leona and have two children, Zach (12) and Mia (17). His eldest has recently joined him on some jobs. “Of course you would love to keep on the Creighton family dynasty that’s made a difference here,” he says. Yes it’s in the genes. You can’t beat pedigree. One day Gerry had the unpleasant task of accompanying his father to the vets. Gerry Sr’s 15-year-old German Shepherd had to be put to sleep. “There he was, a man heading for his 80th birthday, and he cried like a baby as Saoirse took her last breath. Even for all the years he was here in the zoo, it just showed what animals mean to him ... You never lose that compassion in you. For any zookeeper, losing an animal is like losing a part of yourself” he says. He has been present for the euthanasia of an old lion, which reduced many zookeepers there to tears. He was present for the death of a chimpanzee in her 50s who both he and his father had cared for over the years.

He also shot a rhino dead as it escaped from a transport container in 1996, something he describes as 'gut-wrenching.' “Zoo life is a very emotional life. People often ask me, ‘What’s the mortality rate at the Zoo?’ I say, ‘It’s 100 per cent.’ Everything has to die at some point but it’s how we take care of them.”

In January 2021 he left Dublin Zoo and started his own consultancy agency, Global Elephant Care. He is working on developing elephant care and enclosures in France, the UK, the US, Israel, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, where elephants will have air conditioning to save them from the 50-degree heat. He is also working on projects to manage the gradual release of elephants back into the wild, but nevertheless talks bluntly about their situation. “There are less than 40,000 Asian elephants left in the world. In the hour that we’re talking, there will probably be five or six African elephants killed for their ivory. There’s not one day where I haven’t woken up and not looked forward to going into work. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride, but it’s a wonderful job.”



(That is not a typo nor is it one of my oxymoron.) Pure Reflections is the first facility in Ireland and in Europe to offer water cremation or resomation. All thanks to the passionate journey of its founder, Elizabeth Oakes. Her story begins with an apprenticeship in funeral directing and embalming and set her sights on broader horizons.

Upon her return to Ireland, Elizabeth was determined to introduce Resomation to her homeland. And now the service is available in County Meath. Resomation is a gentle, eco-friendly alternative to burial and flame cremation. This innovative process employs water and natural alkaline hydrolysis to gently bring the body back to its chemical components, leaving behind only the bones of the deceased. It's a compassionate choice that aligns with a more environmentally conscious worldview. Pure Reflections is a community of like-minded individuals who share Elizabeth's vision. It's a welcoming, open, and compassionate space where discussions about death and dying flow freely. It is independent of any formal religion, respecting all values and beliefs to ensure that everyone feels valued and understood. Elizabeth's journey is making a lasting impact on Europe and beyond, offering a compassionate and environmentally friendly path for those embarking on their final journey.

During the resomation process, the body is placed in an especially designed vessel filled with a solution of water and alkali. The vessel is then heated, and the combination of heat and alkalinity causes the body to be brought back to its natural components. The resulting liquid by-product is a sterile solution that contains a mixture of amino acids, sugars, and salts. It is a safe for the environment and can be safely returned to the ecosystem. After the process, the remains that the family will receive are a flour-like powder. Like cremation, they consist of granulated bones but unlike cremation, there is no coffin matter present, purely bones. The remains are then returned to those left behind in an urn of their choice. Archbishop Desmond Tutu died on Saint Stephen’s Day 2021.The international press was responding to reports that the anti-apartheid leader, Nobel laureate and Anglican archbishop emeritus who called climate change “one of the greatest moral challenges of our time” had requested Water cremation. At 9 p.m. on New Year’s Day, a frantic phone call was made from BBC World News. The person at the other end was told, “We need somebody to explain what aquamation is on live TV in 30 minutes,” One year later they could simply call (01) 969 6990. Or email:


I wrote a One-Act play twenty years ago. It got a professional reading at Siamse Tire, Tralee , County Kerry in 2005. That was its first outing. If anyone is visiting this green and misty island the Mostrim Players will be staging “A Wolf by the Ears" in four counties during November.

If anyone wants to stage it Stateside just contact, Silver Birchington Plays at enquiries@silverbirchingtonplays.commostr

See you in December.

Click on the author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
This issue appears in the ezine at and also in the blog with the capability of adding comments at the latter.

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