Dublin Zoo was opened in 1831, making it the fourth oldest zoo in Europe. The Zoo’s first elephant was a female called Sita, and her keeper was James McNally. In 1903 Sita cut her foot and as James was applying ointment to her wound, she knocked him down with her trunk and stamped on his head. It was decided she had acted out of malice and was sentenced to death. Punishment came swiftly for Sita. Two days later, an experienced elephant hunter in the Royal Irish Constabulary shot Sita with an elephant rifle. He was accompanied by a firing squad to ensure her immediate death.
The Irish Times expressed regret at the elephant’s sentence saying that, ‘it had always conducted itself admirably’ and wondering if nearly 30 years of good behaviour might tip the scales against killing it. It was believed that the animal’s wound had incited her unusual behaviour. ‘A lover of animals’ wrote to the paper explaining that, ‘to expect the elephant, or any animal, under the circumstances, to be able to control its actions is ridiculous, and to kill it is both cruel and useless.’
Even McNally’s son, witness to his death, said that his father would not have wanted the animal killed.
Sita’s stamping foot was preserved as an umbrella bucket in the Zoo cafeteria for decades.
Image | Elephant presented to Dublin Zoo in 1871