Well red: Abigail McCann (10) from Clonee at Dublin Zoo yesterday

THE director of Dublin Zoo has received a number of written and verbal complaints over this weekend's offer of free entry for all red-headed children to raise awareness of the orangutan.

Director Leo Oosterweghel said he had received "a small amount" of written complaints and had been "inundated" with calls from parents.

In one written complaint, a parent said: "How dare you compare my child to a monkey," while another asked: "Are you going to have a day for larger people to raise awareness of the elephants?"

Oosterweghel said some of the complaints did not make sense but apologised to anyone who was offended.

"I am sorry in that we never intended to upset or traumatise anyone. We don't want to discriminate. However, we are really just being nice to red- headed children. It was to celebrate their hair colour and to raise awareness of the orangutans too.

"The switchboard has been inundated with people asking if it is actually true that the event was taking place. I accept that people may be offended but it was all meant to be light-hearted fun. This is simply meant to raise the awareness of these animals, as they could be extinct in 10 years' time," he said.

The zoo originally advertised the offer last Thursday: "For one weekend only, the zoo is offering free entry to all red-haired children and any child who arrives at the zoo dressed as an orangutan to drive awareness surrounding the endangered orangutans in the wild."

Marian Purdy, co-founder of the website redheadandproud.com, said the association between redheads and orangutans would inevitably be used by children to bully each other, while the news was picked up in reports by the BBC and was also discussed widely on Twitter and the internet.

Oosterweghel said most of the reaction to the promotion was positive.

"While some people are outraged and upset and complaining, we have found that the vast majority of parents and redheads themselves are in favour of this initiative."

Only 4% of the European population now has red hair and scientists believe the gene will soon be extinct.