Lakeland Wildlife Oasis manager Jack Williams writes a weekly column for The Mail.
Initially we can just open the outside areas, but it’s a momentous first step. And from the busy bookings page and visitor feedback, our 'Yippee!' has definitely been echoed by zoo-starved families.
After a tumultuous 12 months, it couldn’t be a better birthday present for the zoo.
Opened April 14, 1992, it’s had its fair share of tears and triumphs, as I’ve learned from our very hands-on founders, Jo and Dave Marsden.
Just like me, Jo and Dave were animal-mad children, testing our parents’ patience by ‘collecting’ pets and strays.
They met while they were keepers at Chester zoo, sharing a dream to bring the important conservation message to the public by creating a more interactive and engaging wildlife experience. They prepared the site of a former plant nursery for an initial selection of invertebrates, fish, amphibians and reptiles. Their first mammals were two giant Indian fruit bats; clearly happily settled even surrounded by builders and construction chaos, they produced baby Bertie before the zoo was officially open.
When I’m tempted to whinge about being tired, I remember Jo and Dave’s dedication to their dream; they couldn’t even take a day off together over that first year. Becoming a conservation charity, the zoo’s first success was breeding several litters of kowari, an endangered Australian marsupial, as part of the European Breeding Programme.
This continues with threatened species like our enigmatic Madagascan fossas, Himalayan snow leopards, native Scottish wildcats, with more on the way. Involved with the zoo since I was 10 and a keeper since 2014, I’ve witnessed some of our biggest challenges like ‘exceptional’ winter floods that are now annual and, of course, lockdown. Through teamwork and support, we’ve come through stronger, and having built an even better enriched environment.