40 years of animal fun

Blackpool Zoo _ Johnny Morris rides in style
Blackpool Zoo _ Johnny Morris rides in style
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So summers aren’t what they used to be?

Flash back to the summer of 1972 and our picture of a rain sodden Animal Magic presenter riding through Blackpool’s brand new attraction on a circus elephant and under a brolly.

A brolly? For one of Britain’s best known naturalists? Sir David Attenborough would never be such a wimp. And his Life on Earth featured Blackpool Zoo when they had one of the finest collections of marsupials. Including a potoroo.

There were no potoroos when children’s favourite Johnny Morris opened the zoo. Which is as well as he used to vocalise animals encountered. It would have been: “I’m a potoroo, how do you do” – in suitably antipodean tones.

The zoo opened with two Asian elephants, three white rhinos, two giraffe, sea lions, gorillas, chimpanzees, orang-utans, lions and two giant tortoise.

Of the originals, a giant tortoise is still shuffling around and Kate the elephant, at 44, is on a special geriatric care programme which involves eating jelly for extra calcium and having weekly pedicures.

Mr Morris was the VIP opener, along with the Mayor Edmund Wynne, who arrived by Rolls Royce. Celebrities have come and gone since – dishy TV vet Steve Leonard visited. Michaela’s Zoo Babies moved in for five weeks. Blue Peter are seldom away from the place.

Our pictures show how times have changed. There’s been a vast improvement in habitats and understanding. And a seismic shift in attitudes too. Can you imagine scantily-clad models leading camels around Bloomfield Road today under the banner “Tigers turn me on”?

Newly-retired Russell Catlow, pressed back into service as weekend duty manager, started his career there as a trainee camel keeper.

“What are now impressive tall trees were just saplings, some enclosures were marked out simply by moats, and the layout was completely different to the zoo we know and love today.

“Our head count stands at more than 500 mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates.

“We pride ourselves on our excellent breeding programmes and have introduced hundreds of new species. This year alone we have welcomed two Giant Anteaters and a pack of Iberian Wolves, both firsts for Blackpool Zoo.

“One thing that has remained the same is our fantastic visiting public, who come back time and time again to catch up with animals they have grown to know and love and meet any new additions to the ever expanding Blackpool Zoo family.”

The zoo celebrates its 40th birthday tomorrow. Some 3,543 visitors attended the launch, when Johnny Morris rode in front of the Mayor’s car on Tower Circus elephant Katsula.

It cost 33p for adults to go in and 17p for children. Combined workforce wages were £565 per month, with keepers earning £24.50 per week!

The first school to enjoy an educational visit was Stanley Infants, on Wordsworth Avenue, Marton, so close the children walked to the East Park Drive attraction.

Tomorrow Stanley Infants join the birthday party. They are as mad about the zoo as their parents and grandparents were. Ask Amy Dunn, Madison Cobb, Noah McLaren, Carney Barrington-French, Kenzie Holland, Luke Hakesley and JJ Bristol – pictured giving their impression of their favourite animal: Zambar the Tiger.

James Caton, George Monks, Callum Middleton and Lucy Casey are just as keen on giraffes.

The six and seven-year-olds will join teacher Rebecca Sims for zoo fun with Mooky and Mr Boo from the Tower Circus before the birthday cake is cut.

Callum’s keen on giraffes because they have “long eyelashes, blue tongues and eat leaves.”

James, who has four pets, wishes he had a long neck “So I could see for miles.”

Carney prefers tigers as he “likes stripes”. Amy would like dolphins at the zoo. “Or moles. I like moles.”

Ruby Lyttleton would like a real cow to milk – rather than the lifesize model already there.

Joe Dickinson would like jellyfish, “Not to eat, just to see.” JJ likes the lions. “They roar louder than tigers.”

They also think keepers should give the usual diet a miss in favour of something really special for the animals – spag bol and fish and chips topping the treat list suggested.

The downside of zoo life? “It’s got to be poo,” declares the aptly-named Noah Maclaren. “I feel sorry for the keepers. I’d invent a poo picking-up machine to help them. Animals make a lot of poo. Different types of poo too.”

George would add some armchairs to the meerkats’ enclosure for his zoo wish list.

“It must be quite hard work standing up looking around all the time. This way they could have a sit down when they felt like it.” Simples.

And Carney also has a very special birthday present in mind for his favourite Amur tiger Zambar.

“I’d get him a girl tiger. He’s a boy tiger and it must get lonely in there. The lion has girlfriends. The tiger doesn’t have anybody. He’s been waiting for a girlfriend for a long time now. He should get one.”

@ jacqui.morley@ blackpoolgazette.co.uk or tweet her @jacquimorley