The day a menagerie of wild animals landed at Sunderland quay

Reginald Bloom with a zebra he had caught, and imported through the port of Sunderland.
Reginald Bloom with a zebra he had caught, and imported through the port of Sunderland.
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Throughout Corporation Quay’s 81-year history, many unusual cargoes have been landed there, but none as strange as the exotic beasts that once were imported from Africa.

In 1946, a regular cargo liner service was established between East Africa and Sunderland with British India, Union Castle and Ellerman ships arriving regularly with commodities such as sisal and chrome ore.

The Kenilworth Castle shipped an array of exotic wildlife to Sunderland.

The Kenilworth Castle shipped an array of exotic wildlife to Sunderland.

With post-war attitudes towards animals being kept in captivity or made to perform for public entertainment still to change significantly and recognition of the need for wildlife conservation, there was considerable demand by zoos and circuses for wild animals and birds, these usually being shipped into the UK through the Port of London.

Today, trade in endangered species is closely regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but this was not implemented until 1975.

A number of individuals were involved in capturing such animals, one being American big-game hunter and trapper Harry Stanton.

On July 9, 1949, the 9,916 gross-ton Union Castle motor liner Kenilworth Castle arrived at Corporation Quay from Beira, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique).

Besides importing chrome ore, sisal and 90 tons of animal bones for a Tyneside glue factory and disembarking 38 passengers, an extraordinary menagerie of wild animals housed in crates awaited discharge.

Some 25 animals – including a leopard, two cheetahs, six baboons and three ostriches – had been caught by Stanton in Rumuruti, Kenya, and were destined for Belle Vue Zoo, Manchester; Chessington Zoo, Surrey and a Hampshire animal trader who supplied circuses and fairs.

Arrangements were made by the ship’s agent, JF Marshall and Son, for the animals to be loaded onto lorries, before reaching their final destinations by train.

Kenilworth Castle returned to Corporation Quay on July 17, 1954, with a much larger batch of wildlife, caught by husband and wife zoological collectors Reginald and Margaret Bloom, who had become well-known for their wildlife conservation exploits.

About 60 creatures representing a variety of species had experienced a rough passage from Mombasa, with some having been named on the way by the ship’s crew. These included a rare warthog, an eagle, baby rhinoceroses from Uganda, Helen the giraffe, George the zebra and two lion cubs named Elizabeth and Philip.

Unfortunately, there had been casualties during the voyage. An ostrich died and was fed to the lion cubs; a flying squirrel escaped and fell from the masthead and a crane was pecked to death by its companions.

The animals were eventually transported to zoos at Bristol, Chester, London and Manchester, with the lion cubs going overseas to Jamaica.

Kenilworth Castle was built as Empire Wilson at Glasgow in 1944, being renamed in 1946 and broken up in 1967.