Worldwide hit RTÉ's Dublin Zoo documentary returns to small screens for tenth time
Brendan Walsh, keeper at Dublin Zoo, chats about the heart-warming tenth series of the hit TV show
Beloved home-grown documentary The Zoo returns to small screens for the tenth time tonight.
Amur tigers, Bornean orangutans and snow leopards are just some of the exotic animals featured on the latest series of RTÉ's worldwide hit.
Just don't expect any Tiger King-style mayhem or mullets, warns two-legged star Brendan Walsh.
"I watched it," he says of the controversial Netflix true crime series about jailed Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Exotic.
"What they do and what we do, I'm glad to say, are miles apart.
"There's zero conservation goal; their tigers are all hybrids, and the poor things are generally very inbred as well.
"I certainly wouldn't agree with how he did things there in terms of looking after his animals or his staff.
"We would see ourselves as being very, very different organisations. You won't see any similarities, I'm happy to say."
Narrated by Tom Dunne, Moondance Productions' docuseries has been giving viewers a fly-on-the-wall look at life inside Dublin Zoo since 2010.
Now its residents can't wait to welcome fans back to the Phoenix Park after reopening to the public in June, according to the keeper.
"It was tough times," admits Brendan of keeping the 70-acre home to 400 rare and endangered animals going during lockdown. "We're different to a lot of companies [in] that we can't just close up, turn off the lights and walk away for a few months.
"We kept the same level of care for our animals as we always have, so that obviously brings its expenses, without money coming in the gate.
"It was lovely and serene in here, I have to say," he adds. "But it's fantastic to get the visitors back now - it brings the atmosphere back to the place.
"I do think some animals really enjoy the visitors, especially the likes of the orangutans and a lot of the other primates.
"Things have changed, obviously. We would often have kids getting lost each day - this year I think I've only heard two radio calls for kids getting lost because it' a one-way system."
Dubliner Brendan first started working in the Zoo restaurant part-time as a student more than two decades ago. Now season 10 follows the dad-of-one on the trip of his dreams as part of an oryx conservation project in Tunisia late last year.
"The Tunisia trip was just mind-blowing," he tells Magazine+. "I went to four different national parks and two reserves as well.
"The story behind the oryx, to me, is really a symbol of hope because they were extinct in the wild.
"There was literally none left in North Africa - the belief is that the last one ever seen was in Niger in 1980.
"Now the numbers in all of North Africa is approaching 900, so it is a fantastic success.
"We're actively involved in 22 field conservation projects and we give money to them every year," explains Brendan.
"Long-term, conservation projects should never be just about the animals, they should be employing local people and that's what these projects in Tunisia are doing."
Animal lovers from as far afield as Thailand and the US are also hooked on the TV show which has gone global.
And celebrity zookeeper Brendan promised more heart-warming - and occasionally heartbreaking - moments this time round.
"Americans have walked past me in the zoo, 'Hey, Brendan!', and I'm thinking I should know them," he laughs.
"Then they tell me, 'I know you from The Zoo'. It's spread around the world - it's done well.
"If I was going to say one word I think it's 'honest'," he continues of its widespread appeal. "The show isn't afraid to show the sad side of zookeeping; animals die and animals move on, and from the first series that's been the case.
"It's not always going to be happy story with a happy ending - sometimes it's going to tell the tough realities of life."
Meanwhile, there could be a second-generation zookeeper in the making back home, jokes Brendan.
"I wanted to be a zookeeper since I was four," he shares. "And my two-year old son, Aran, is animal-mad as well.
"It's definitely in the blood!"
• The Zoo returns to RTÉ One tonight at 7.30pm