Blackpool Zoo has embarked on a worldwide search to find the forgotten hero of an incredible true story.
The award-winning attraction is on a mission to find a young zoo keeper, known only as Dennis, who was sent to India in 1969 to rescue two orphaned baby elephants who would become among the zoo’s first and most popular residents.
The story of Dennis’ fascinating journey was discovered by Blackpool Zoo staff, who found a ship’s log by the chief officer of the MV City of Gloucester cargo vessel which sailed the elephants’ 8,500 miles across the Indian Ocean to the UK while cleaning out an old education room.
They now hope to find ‘Dennis the Elephant Man’ or any of his family to be guests of honour at Blackpool Zoo’s 45th anniversary celebrations next year.
In the ship’s log, Dennis is described as ‘a very slim young man with hair bleached white by the sun.’
He arrived in the southern Indian area of Mysore and, after months of searching, found two orphaned baby elephants, who later became known as Crumple and Kate.
The ship’s log, written by officer Tom Weale, gives a 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.
The two animals flourished under Dennis’ gentle care and became firm favourites with the ship’s company, including the chief cook – despite the ‘dumpy little creatures’ frequently raiding the freshly baked breakfast rolls.
Officer Weale wrote: “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.”
Darren Webster, Blackpool Zoo’s director, said: “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.”
Crumple died in 2009.
If anyone knows a man called Dennis who used to work at Blackpool Zoo in the late 1960s and 1970s, call the zoo on (01253) 830830 or make a post on their Facebook page - www.facebook.com/blackpoolzoo/