On Friday, I received a phone call from my hubby at noon asking me if we can go to Chester Zoo tomorrow. The first reaction from me was, what’s so special about it as we have already seen many Zoos in India and Croatia. He replied, ” Chester is famous for its Zoo and our daughter will love it.” I agreed to go.
I and my daughter were excited about the trip. I took my laptop and hit the search button in google about Chester Zoo as we were curious to know what is on hold for us.
Few facts about Chester zoo:
Chester Zoo is a zoo at Upton by Chester, in Cheshire, England. It was opened in 1931 by George Mottershead and his family. It is one of the UK’s largest zoos at 125 acres. The zoo has a total land holding of approximately 400 acres. It is operated by the North of England Zoological Society, a registered charity founded in 1934. The zoo receives no government funding. It is the most-visited wildlife attraction in Britain with more than 1.4 million visitors in 2014. In 2007, Forbes described it as one of the best fifteen zoos in the world. In 2017 it was named as the best zoo in the UK and third in the world by TripAdvisor.
George Saul Mottershead (12 June 1894 – 5 May 1978) was the founder of Chester Zoo.
Mottershead was taken to Belle Vue Zoological Gardens in Manchester in 1903, as a childhood treat after the end of the Second Boer War. He disliked seeing the animals confined in cages, and was determined to create a zoo without bars. As a youth, he experimented with aviaries, and tanks and runs for pet lizards and snakes.
With his parents and young family, Mottershead moved to Shavington in the 1920s, and operated a successful market garden and florist, later selling pet birds. He started to show his stock of birds and his private collection of animals to the paying public.
The Mottershead family moved to the Oakfield Estate in Upton by Chester in December 1930, paying £3,500 for a 9 acres (3.6 ha) site including Oakfield Manor, built around 1885 for Benjamin Chafers Roberts and now a Grade II listed building. They acquired two Himalayan Black Bears from a wildlife park in Matlock, and added monkeys, chimpanzees, birds, and reptiles. The local residents were concerned about the potential dangers of escaped animals, but, after a public inquiry, the Ministry of Health granted permission to open the zoo in April 1931, and Chester Zoo opened to the public on 10 June 1931. Mottershead founded the “North of England Zoological Society” in 1934. The zoo continued through the Second World War, accepting its first pair of elephants from a circus in 1941.
After his death, his ashes were scattered on the zoo memorial garden dedicated to his wife Elizabeth who died in 1969. The garden is now the Chinese garden at the zoo.
The story of George Mottershead’s founding of Chester Zoo is the subject of a 2014 BBC television drama serial, ‘OUR ZOO’. Mottershead is portrayed by Lee Ingleby.
Our Trip to Chester Zoo:
On Saturday Morning, it was a rainy day. We booked our tickets to the zoo through their website to avoid standing in Queue.
We started at home by 10 am. Boarded on a direct train from Altrincham to Chester which takes about average time of One and Half hours. From Chester train station, there is a regular zoo bus.
Chester Train Station
We arrived just before 11.30am successfully missing the morning entrance rush. We were greeted upon arrival with a free map.
As you walk in there is a real ‘wow’ factor as immediately you are in front of the elephants. Elephants have long been associated with Chester. The new elephant house, built in 1959, was a showpiece covering 20,000 square feet, leading to a moated paddock over an acre in size. It is a bold, cathedral-like building, heated indoors in the winter months, with colorful indoor displays of flowers, and it is a wonderful place to get close to some fully grown elephants.
Chester Zoo houses a huge number of animals, there are currently over 12,000, from the traditional favorites of elephants and giraffes to jaguars and black rhinoceros. Enclosures include the Realm of the Red Ape and the Spirit of Jaguar, there is also an amazing penguin pool with underwater viewing, it is lots of fun to see the penguins diving and playing.
Whether your preference is for meerkats, or tigers, monkeys or rhinos, there’s bound to be an animal you are interested in. For me, it’s the giraffes and their feeding place which got me a bit carried away taking pictures of them during my visit.
The great thing about Chester Zoo is that there are very wide walkways, plenty of places to have a picnic and some amazing play facilities, Another great facility is the little touring pushchairs that are available to hire, you see much more of the park if you have a pre-schooler as they enjoyed sitting in the little cars and driving around the zoo. There is a spectacular monorail which carries visitors aloft over several of the paddocks. It is a generous ride, covering a fair portion of the zoo. A recorded commentary provides information on the animals beneath. For a zoo of Chester’s size, with so much required walking, the monorail, and the canal boat ride are a welcome diversion and a less taxing way of seeing some of the far-flung corners of the zoo.
This zoo is so vast that even on its busiest days you can get up close to the animals, especially if you choose your route carefully. We learn more from the information boards – all about the animals.
There is a spectacular Islands house which boasts the only breeding pair of red bird of paradise as well as Komodo dragons, a jaguar house, a new okapi exhibit and an orangutan house called the realm of the red ape.
The penguin pool with its large picture windows for underwater viewing is magnificent and enormously popular. Flamingos wade beautifully in a large central lake. Rhinos (black and Indian), are in low walled, moated paddocks.
This zoo has a quite astonishing tropical house. Built in 1964, this building is almost sixty feet high, with a floor area of around 40,000 square feet. As well as housing the reptile collection the building also features quite luxuriant undergrowth of tropical palms, rubber trees, hibiscus, bougainvillea, banyan, and a display of orchids, set around an artificial waterfall. Free flying birds occupy the building, and these include weaver birds whose intricately woven nests hang pendulously from the high palms. Crocodiles and Alligators occupy steamy pools. It also has red-eyed tree frog from South America, and regularly breeds a long list of snakes, lizards, tortoises, and amphibians.
Birds are very well featured at Chester with over one hundred and seventy species on display and a spectacular nocturnal bat house. There is so much to see and do at Chester Zoo, so many groups of animals or enclosures that deserve a mention, that it is difficult to avoid producing simply a long list of animals that should not be missed.
Every animal house seems to be bedecked with flowering plants, and there are flower beds around almost every corner.
We decided to end our trip with the new islands section and all I can say is WOW!
They have really gone to town with the décor in this area. Waterways run throughout the Islands with driverless boats transporting visitors around the exhibits. We didn’t try this ourselves as we were time limited, but if we had more time to spare, we would have definitely given this a go!
There was one instance of crowding during our day at the zoo and this took place for us at the Islands. Specifically, the Tiger enclosure. The pesky tigers had gathered in a small spot that could only be witnessed via one window within a cave walkway and being a new addition to the zoo, everyone was queuing to take their turn in front of the glass.
That aside I would highly recommend Chester Zoo. It really is a great day out!
Top reasons to visit:
1. The exhibits provide plenty of space and the care that goes into their wellbeing, is evident not only by the numerous education boards highlighting their conservation efforts, but also by the condition and relaxed behaviour of the animals themselves. You certainly won’t see any bars or cages at Chester Zoo!
2. Get your daily steps in without even realising! The size of the zoo is incredible and its easily a full day walking, but do you know what? I don’t notice! There are electric scooters, wheelchairs and buggy’s available to hire at the entrance and you can hop on a waterway or overhead monorail tour should your feet need to take a few minutes rest.
3. With over 500 species, Chester Zoo has all the big exhibits (Lions, Elephants, Leopards, Rhinos, Penguins, Bears, Giraffes, Orangutans etc) with the addition of lesser known endangered species such as the Okapi, Binturong, Anoa, Pudu and Babirusa.
4. Interactive and walk through exhibits such as the bat house, butterfly house and bird aviaries.
5. Loads of fun stuff for kids (above and beyond the exhibits!) Including: face painting, mini golf and 5 play areas!
6. Beautiful landscaped gardens.
7. Friendly and knowledgeable zoo keepers who are happy to answer questions! A lot of their staff are volunteers and you can tell how important the welfare of the animals is to them.
Tickets can be expensive, but trust us it’s worth it! Chester Zoo is also a charity and all proceeds go to looking after the animals and various global conservation projects. Book with them online for a 10% discount. You need a full day if you want to see everything! There are lots of tours available including a conservation, early morning, expert guide, encounters and even a Segway tour, but you need to book in advance.
With continued firm and enlightened direction, Chester Zoo should be able to sustain its position as a first-class zoo, and as one of Britain’s finest.