"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on December 23, 2017 by Sioux under General
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Up and out early, I took the train to Chester and a bus to the zoo. In the early 1900’s a young boy visiting the Manchester Zoo with his father, said “One day when I have a zoo, there won’t be any bars on the cages”. Despite heavy opposition, in 1930, that dream started to come true with the purchase of Oakfield House and seven acres of land. Chester Zoo opened in 1931, and in 1934, the North of England Zoological Society was born. Keeping the young zoo open through the WWII was no mean feat, but with single-minded tenacity, the determined owner managed it. 

Keeping to his slogan of “Always building”, the zoo started growing even bigger after the war, and with materials being hard to come by the owner had to be resourceful – he built the polar bear exhibit in 1950 from recycled wartime road blocks and pillboxes. His amazing energy, enthusiasm and skill earned him an OBE, and honorary Master of Science degree, and a term as President of the International Union of Zoo Directors; and by the time he died in 1978, aged 84, his dream of a ‘zoo without bars’ was well and truly flourishing at Chester. 

                                            Today, Chester Zoo is the UK’s most popular zoo, and                                        one of the top 15 in the world as well as a highly respected            centre for global conservation and research, and by 2016 housed over 20,000                                                           creatures of 500 different species  – all because,                                                         more than 100 years ago, one little boy cared                                                               deeply about animals.

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The total estate now covers about                                                                       500 acres, and although the zoo itself only takes up 125 acres – its more than ten times the size of the                             first bit of land that was purchased in 1930! 

 

There are 170 buildings at Chester Zoo, comprising the animal exhibits, shops, restaurants, rest-rooms and admin offices. And of course, the original Oakfield House and stable block, which are now both listed as historical buildings. The Fruit Bat Forest is the largest free-flying bat cave in Europe.

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Capybara (the scientific name means ‘water hog’) are the world’s largest rodent species and are often referred to as giant guinea pigs and can grow to up to 1.5m in length. Like rabbits, they eat their own dung to extract maximum nutrition from their food. Naturally found in small herds on grasslands, tropical forests and on wetlands across much of South America, they spend a lot of time in water. Their eyes and nostrils are on the top of their head so they can stay submerged with very little of their body showing – assisting in avoiding detection by predators. Although not currently listed as an endangered species, the capybara is threatened by illegal poaching for its meat and skin, which can be turned into leather, as well as habitat degradation.

Tapirs, although very strange looking creatures, are quite gentle and mild natured. In the wild they are excellent swimmers and are found in several different South American Countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Venezuela and Bolivia. They grow up to 118cm at shoulder height and up to 2.5m in length; weighing in at a whopping 250kgs! 

 

Rainforests, which are an important habitat type for these forest dependent animals, are increasingly being destroyed as developers and farmers take over the land which has put the future survival of the Tapir under threat.

As I entered the                                                                  Butterfly House, I noticed a distinct                                                                                            change in temperature, as it is kept to a                            ‘tropical habitat temperature’ and                                                                                                houses some of the more delicate creatures of the zoo. Big and small, colourful or drab, the                                                                                            butterflies are all stunning in their own way. Some no bigger than a R5 coin and others with a wingspan of 30cm!

They flit in and out of the exotic plants, and also land where they want – and if that happens to be on a human shoulder or arm, then so be it. There were often squeals of delight (or fear) erupting from the many children and adults alike when a resident decided to flutter down and rest! The sounds of the waterfall in the background, coupled with the warm humidity made me feel as if I was walking through a rainforest.

The Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), also called the  Greater One-horned Rhinoceros or Great Indian Rhinoceros, is  native to the Indian subcontinent and listed as vulnerable. Chester Zoo has a pair which are part of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme. 

By the time I got back to my accommodation in Liverpool, I was exhausted from all the walking, but it was a fab day out! 

This White Rhino mom knows her little one is safe from poachers.

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Only about 5,000 giant otters now exist in the wild and their numbers are in danger of going down even more as developers,                                      miners and crop farmers take over much of the rainforests where they naturally live.Despite otters being generally thought of as cute and playful, in the waters of the Amazon the giant otter is known as the ‘river wolf’ because of its large, razor sharp teeth and muscular body.

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