We’re on a nation wide search to find the young zoo keeper who was sent to India in 1969 to collect two baby elephants, who would become among the zoo’s first and most popular residents.
The story of Dennis’ fascinating journey recently came to light in a previously unseen document – a ship’s log by the Chief Officer of the MV City of Gloucester cargo vessel which charts the elephants’ 8,500 mile voyage to the UK along the Indian Ocean, via the Cape of Good Hope, starting on June 1st 1971.
And now, we’re hoping to find Dennis – surname unknown – or possibly any of his relations to be part of Blackpool Zoo’s 45th anniversary celebrations in 2017.
In the ship’s log, Dennis who we believe to have been around 20 years old and from Ormskirk, was described as ‘a very slim young man with hair bleached white by the sun…Dennis the Elephant Man!’. He arrived in the southern Indian area of Mysore and after months of searching, he found two orphan elephants, just four foot, eight inches tall, who were later to become known as Crumple and Kate.
Archive photography of Kate and Crumple in the early days of Blackpool Zoo.
The ship’s log is an incredible warm and colourful account of Kate and Crumple’s travels, from their stay in the gardens of the Malabar Hotel in the port of Cochin to life aboard ship. It describes how the two animals flourished under Dennis’ gentle care and became firm favourites with the ship’s company, including the Chief Cook despite raids by the ‘dumpy little creatures’ of the ‘freshly baked breakfast rolls.’
The ship’s log, written by Chief Officer Tom Weale, describes the elephants’ personalities and how they soon found their sea legs – from being hosed and scrubbed each morning to play time when there were lots of ‘trumpeting and bellowing fit to burst’. He explains how the ship’s company spent ‘many off watch hours…feet up on the hand rail, pints of cold beer in hands chatting to our new found friends’.
Tom signed off his log with the following words, ‘I have carried countless cargoes over equally countless miles of ocean; none of them were as much fun as our two baby elephants Crumple and Katie. Good luck to you both’.
Our Zoo Director Darren Webster said the ship’s record was found when staff were clearing out an old education room. He explained:
“If there’s any chance we can find Dennis or any of his relations, then it would be quite incredible. The ship’s log is a lovely portrayal of Dennis, Crumple and Kate’s journey from India to the port of Avonmouth, Bristol, in the early 1970s.
“It would appear that Dennis was employed by the zoo before it actually opened and we do not have any staff records that go back that far. He will probably be in his late 60s by now and could still be living in Ormskirk or around the North West.
“It would be wonderful to invite him to our 45th anniversary celebrations and hear more about his adventures in India.”
If anyone knows a man called Dennis who used to work at Blackpool Zoo in the late 1960s and 1970s, please get in touch by calling 01253 830830 or via our Facebook page
You can read the full Ship’s Log – here