Originally known as Stanway Hall Park Zoo, the zoo was opened on the 2nd June 1963 by Frank and Helena Farrar and so celebrated its 50th birthday in 2013!
The zoo was very successful during the 1960's, with many thousands of visitors flocking to see its iconic animals. Some of these animals achieved their own celebrity status, appearing in films, commercials and meeting stars including Kirk Douglas and Norman Wisdom. Another big star was a lion called Rajah, who appeared in many of the Tarzan films with Gordon Scott.
During the 1970's, the zoo saw the arrival of a lion called Simba, who still holds the record for being the largest captive lion in the world! The zoo also bred three zeedonks, which caused worldwide interest.
During the late 1970's and early 1980's, the zoo fell into disrepair and visitor numbers dropped rapidly. The government also passed the Zoo Licensing Act in 1981, which meant that all zoos needed to be licensed and inspected. Frank Farrar knew that his zoo was in need of major improvements in order to gain a license, but with little funds available and his health failing, Frank had no choice but to sell the zoo, and so Colchester Zoo was put up for sale.
Angela and Dominique Tropeano took over the zoo in March 1983. They began the long process of bringing the zoo back up to the standard required to gain its licence in order to remain open. They invested many thousands of pounds in enclosure improvements and brought more animals into the collection during the 1980's, including two of our resident elephants, Tanya and Zola, who were rescued from a cull in southern Africa.
The hurricane of October 1987 was a major setback for the zoo; many of the original enclosures were destroyed, and the zoo also lost a number of new exhibits and spectacular trees. The park was without power for six days during this time, but a generator lent to them by the British Army helped save the lives of many delicate animal species.
A major development for Colchester Zoo came during the 1990's with the purchase of an additional 20 acres of land to expand. This purchase enabled major changes to be made to the animal enclosures to improve the animals' welfare including the Elephant Kingdom, Kingdom of the Wild and Edge of Africa.
The zoo also faced its most critical time during the Foot and Mouth Crisis in 2001. The zoo was forced to close its gates to the public with a devastating effect on the zoo and hundreds of thousands of pounds was lost. Luckily, the zoo was able to reopen just in time for Easter and the local community supported the zoo by sending in donations. Without this support, the zoo may not have recovered.
Over the years, Colchester Zoo has become well known for its modern ground breaking enclosures, despite receiving no external assistance. It depends on its income from admissions and other revenues to develop and fund its conservation work. The zoo has won many awards for its enclosure development, animal welfare and conservation, including awards for animal husbandry and breeding programmes, as well as customer relations and best attraction awards. One example of an award winning enclosure was Playa Patagonia, the sealion exhibit developed in 2004, for which Colchester Zoo was awarded a commendation for the best new enclosure by the Federation of Zoological Gardens of Great Britain and Ireland.
Pioneering technology has also been used in breeding management, which led to the birth of an African elephant calf in 2002. Kito was the first elephant to be born via artificial insemination in Britain and the first in the world to be conceived on the very first attempt at this process. Since then, Zamba, a white rhino calf, was born in 2009 via artificial insemination. Again he was the first in the UK to be conceived by this technique.
Colchester Zoo also supports conservation in the wild, actively supporting a number of different projects around the world, which are all working to protect endangered species. These projects are supported through the zoo's charitable arm Action for the Wild, which was set up in 1993 and achieved charitable status in 2004. In 2005, Colchester Zoo purchased three farms to develop the UmPhafa Private Nature Reserve in South Africa where zebra, rhino, giraffe and countless other animals have been released.
Colchester Zoo has also been the centre of attention with the filming of Channel Five's Zoo Days showing the staff's dedication and work towards the zoo and conservation.
Colchester Zoo continues to grow and develop to meet the demands of the 21st century and strives to ensure that it leads the way in the fields of conservation, education and research.