Dublin Zoo’s Society House becomes new focus for conservation

In 1959, superintendent Terry Murphy successfully hand-reared two tiger cubs, Buster and Not-So-Good, in Society House

Dublin Zoo has joined a global conservation network and will act as the Irish centre for species conservation efforts with the primary focus being on safeguarding Irish biodiversity and protecting species under threat from urban development and the climate crisis.

A National Centre for Species Survival has been opened in Society House not far from the main entrance and in a building dating back to 1868, which for decades served as the home of the director of the zoo.

It is part of an official partnership between the zoo and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC) and will facilitate species conservation assessments, conservation planning and action.

A focus of the centre will be the conservation of native Irish wildlife, which will be done in tandem with Dublin Zoo’s work with its conservation partners in Ireland including Bat Rehabilitation Ireland and the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.


While it became a home in the 20th century, Society House was used by the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland in the 19th century for gatherings of scientists, artists and VIPs and also served as an informal veterinary hospital for young, sick or delicate animals.

In 1959, superintendent Terry Murphy successfully hand-reared two tiger cubs, Buster and Not-So-Good, in Society House, both of which became celebrated animals at the zoo.

The building has been completely renovated over the past 12 months, part-funded by the Irish Government through the Office of Public Works (OPW).

The director of Dublin Zoo, Dr Christoph Schwitzer, who decided to live on a different, less-travelled path in the zoo upon his appointment in 2020, said the new centre is “a very important move towards achieving a key objective of Dublin Zoo’s ten-year vision ‘to save wildlife in Ireland and globally’.”

He said the zoo’s goal is to “become a national focal point for species conservation status assessment and planning, influencing policy development globally to create a world where people live in harmony with nature.”

The official opening was overseen by Minister for State for Nature, Heritage and Electoral Reform Malcolm Noonan who hailed the re-imagining of the building “in a way that looks to the future”.

He said the “conservation of Irish species is vital and the work that will be done in the National Centre for Species Survival will play a major role in preserving our natural heritage.”

The chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission said the new centre was “an important step towards securing a future for wildlife, wild places and people in Ireland and globally. Conservation is effective, but we need a collaborative approach and we hope this new centre in Dublin Zoo will inspire other organisations worldwide to join our efforts.”

Andrew Mooney is the newly appointed co-ordinator at the centre and will be charged with the day-to-day managing of the conservation programme.

“Ireland’s very biodiverse and we have over 31,000 recorded species and they live across a huge diversity of habitats. But a lot of our habitats have an unfavorable conservation status and they’re the priorities that we’re looking to work with.”

He did not downplay the challenges the centre – and other programmes - face, but was upbeat about the future. “I think in any kind of conservation role, you have to look at all the small wins and really celebrate those. So here at Dublin Zoo, we’re really expanding our conservation partnerships. This year alone we’ve partnered with Seal Rescue Ireland, Bat Rehabilitation Ireland and Kildare Wildlife Rescue and we’re really trying to focus on these native species and helping to protect them.”

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast