Animal magic as zoo turns 45

Animal manager Peter Dillingham gets up close with one of the animals
Animal manager Peter Dillingham gets up close with one of the animals
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Carrots stood in for candles as Blackpool Zoo celebrated a landmark birthday.

Zoo bosses were marking 45 years of animal magic at the attraction, which was opened by Johnny Morris in July 6 1972.

A lot has changed since those early days – not least the number of animals and the types of enclosure they live in.

But the passion of the staff remains.

Animal Manager Peter Dillingham has been at the zoo for 28 years and loves his job as much now as the first day he stepped into the park.

He said: “The role of a keeper has certainly changed.

“Back then it was literally just looking after the animals, feeding them, cleaning the enclosures, wiping the glass.

“Now you’re involved with the public, getting them involved.

“Everyone has to be Johnny Morris these days!”

Peter has worked with many of the zoos most popular animals from Kate the elephant to Darwin the giant tortoise.

But he won’t reveal which is his favourite.

He said: “Honestly , as keeper you try not to have favourites.

“Obviously people who specialise are passionate about the animals they work with.

“But a lot of the time as a keeper it’s the latest thing. If we were to get a new stick insect, if you’d not worked with one before it would be fascinating.”

Peter admits the approach to the job has become a lot more scientific, but believes the conservation mission has never changed.

“We are doing important work, more than ever.

“We’re working with breeding programmes, with other zoos across the world.

“A lot of what we’re learing in captivity is relevant to protecting these animals in the wild.”

PR and Marketing manager Jude Rothwell has put together an exhibition to celebrate the zoo’s 45th birthday - contrasting 1972 to 2017.

And she can’t believe the advances.

“I remember the old Tower zoo. The first thing that hit you was the smell, and the size of the enclosures.

“The original plan here was for a safari park. Then the De Vere hotel came along and we were left with a smaller plot.

“Maybe the most fascinating thing for me is how the veterinary medicine has changed. It’s really amazing the advances.”

And Blackpool Zoo continues to push boundaries, with a new multi-million pound elephant house currently rising on a huge plot close to the main entrance.

Senior Large Mammal Keeper, Adam Kenyon, is very excited.

He said: “The elephant house we have now, that’s 1972 – this is now.

“It’s a world apart and we’re very excited with how it’s taking shape.”