Colchester Zoo was first opened in June 1963. It was called Stanway Hall Zoo Park and was owned by two zoologists called Frank and Helena Farrar. The Zoo was very small just 10 hectare and had a very small collection of animals ranging from Big cats to Kangaroos. It was soon renamed Colchester Zoo. It was a conservation centre then as it is now. Colchester Zoo was taken over in 1983 by the current owners (Angela and Dominique Tropeano) who run the zoo as a family business and a private limited company (Colchester Zoo Ltd). They modernised the Zoo into a prospering and renowned facility. At that time the zoo received around 100,000 visitors a year. The zoo was a tight team with just 5 keepers and 5 other part time staff!, managing 500 animals. The zoo grounds over the last 37 years have increased from 10 to over 24 hectare. It employs now over 250 staff and have over 500,000 visitors a year.
In 1985 the elephants Tanya and Zola arrived to start the herd. Since their arrival, the herd has been added to and become a successful breeding group. Between 1988 and 1992 a number of new enclosures were opened - the tigers in 1998, Edge of Africa area in 1990 and the Chimp House in 1992. When the new lion enclosure, Serengeti Plains opened in 1992, it was the largest in the country for lions and let visitors get a spectacular view of the lions through the glass. The lions moved home again, in 2004, to Lion Rock. The old enclosure becoming home to Cherry Crowned Mangabeys. The Penguin Shores was opened in 1994. The complex housed the Zoo's first group of Humboldt penguins. Thirteen years later Inca Trail was opened which provided an enclosure for a new group of penguins as well as another enclosure for spider monkeys. In 1997 the new elephant complex, "Spirit of Africa" in April 1997, opened, which in 2002 saw the birth of Colchester Zoo's first baby elephant, Kito. Followed by Jambo born in 2004. Late 2002 the second phase of Spirit of Africa, "Kingdom of the Wild" was opened, providing home to zebra, ostrich, camels and rhino. It also saw the arrival of two new species: Giraffes and pygmy hippo. The new sealion enclosure, "Playa Patagonia" was opened in 2003. With its 24m underground tunnel, visitors can experience the sealions from a whole new perspective. In 2005 Komodo Dragons arrived at the zoo. It had been the Tropeano's wish to have them at the Zoo when they took over in 1983. More than 20-years later the dream was fulfilled.
The animals habitats at Colchester Zoo are presented in a number of different themed zones, like Kingdom of the Wild, Lakelands zone, Heights zone, Valley zone and Aquatic zone. One of the latest enclosure designed and built is the Orangutan Forest. The enclosure is naturalistic in design, encouraging this arboreal primate to climb up high. Rainwater collection facilities have been incorporated into the design of the building allowing collected rainwater to then be used by the keepers to clean the enclosures and water the plants.
The rarest big cat and mammal in the collection of Colchester zoo is the Amur Leopard with just 35 thought to be left in the wild! The new extended enclosure ("Leopards at Ussuri Falls") for this critically endangered animal (IUCN red list) was opened in spring of 2010. As leopards are solitary in the wild, they have created separate enclosures for the male and female leopard which includes an area to mix them during breeding season, which is the only time in the wild that they would interact. This is a much improved home for their leopards, incorporating more space in a natural environment, with lots of height and areas for climbing, plus better viewing for the visitors.
In 1993 the zoo developed the organisation Action for the Wild in order to protect endangered species in the wild. The organisation continues to aid conservation, research and education projects. One of the first projects to receive support was the Lion Tamarins of Brazil Fund. It was the first British zoo to set up it own reserve out in South Africa, which is protecting endangered species in their natural habitat. They had a scientific first with artificial insemination of two female rhinoceroses, one in Budapest and one in Colchester, delivering successful offspring. This can have huge consequences for conservation.
Colchester Zoo is the first zoo in the UK, and one of only a couple in Europe to have successfully bred four aardvark babies; three of which have now become an active part of the breeding programme. The Zoo is the most successful zoo in UK in breeding Gelada Baboons and has the largest breeding group of Mandrills in the UK with over 25 Mandrills making up the troop it is the second largest group in Europe.
In 2001, the zoo faced one of its biggest tests when it had to close its gates to the public due to the foot and mouth crisis. The zoo was closed for just over a month and lost £250,000.
Colchester Zoo has become well known for its modern, ground breaking enclosures for its animals. When designing a new enclosure, a number of factors have to be taken into account, including all the needs of the species that you are designing the enclosure for, the number of animals the enclosure will house, its welfare and safety. The needs of the visitor also need to be taken into account according to the website of Colchester zoo. So you should incorporate covered areas for wet days, maximising the potential for animal viewing balanced with an animal's requirement for privacy. As Colchester zoo does not receive any subsidies whatsoever, they rely on donations and entrance fees entirely. This justifies the need for meeting requirements addressing the display of animals. At least they are honest about it. People want to see the animals when they visit the zoo. Not everybody is as mad as me and wait for hours to see the lion come out and emerge from its hidden den.
(Source: website Colchester Zoo; website BBC, Essex local history, Zoo owners celebrate 25 years, 03.04.2008; Wikipedia)