Founded by the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland, the Zoological Gardens opened its gates to the public on September 1st, 1831 with 46 mammals and 72 birds ,which were donated by London Zoo. As the charge for entrance was sixpence, the zoo visitors were mainly made up of the wealthy middle class of the time. However, on Sundays, the zoo reduced the gate charge to a penny, making it an affordable and very popular day out for many Dubliners.
The cottage-style entrance lodge to the zoo was built in 1883, at a cost of £30. Although no longer used as an entrance, the beautiful thatched lodge still stands proudly to the right of the current zoo entrance.
The zoo has opened its gates during many significant events. In 1838, they held an open day to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Coronation ,which attracted 20,000 people. During the 1916 Easter Rising, access to the zoo was difficult. As a result many zoo animals were killed in order to feed the lions and tigers.
A Dublin Zoo lion, named Slats, was one of many lions filmed by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio in 1928, to be used as their mascot, Leo. During World War II, despite the difficulty in replacing animals that died, the zoo remained as popular as ever. The public even kindly donated food for the animals.
There have been a few zoo escapees over the years. In 1939, a bear escaped from its enclosure and was discovered in the refreshment rooms of the zoo. He had eaten cakes and sweets and ended up falling asleep in a cloakroom. Luckily the zoo was closed at the time. In 1942, an escaped racoon was found on Mary Street in Dublin City Centre.
Many of the original zoo buildings survive to this day. Despite financial struggles in the 1980's and 1990's, Dublin Zoo moved forward, expanded and modernised with the help of government grants, and is now a thriving world renowned zoo and tourist attraction that receives up to a million visitors each year.