When we moved to Colchester in 1983, one of the first things we did was to visit Colchester Zoo. It was a big attraction back then, when there was far less competition in terms of days out in Essex.
The visit was a chastening one. Even in an era of putting animals behind bars in cages far too small for them, the overall visitor experience wasn’t a good one. Fortunately, the zoo had just been taken over by he Tropeano family, and, as they say, the rest is history. (And there’s a page on the Colchester Zoo website detailing their history.
We watched as the Zoo began it’s transformation, particularly during the 1990s, when we had our own children, nephew’s and nieces, and friend’s children to entertain.
The zoo grew in size, the car park grew in size, and the space the animals had grew in size. We’ve seen the animals move into purpose-built locations over the year, whether it be full of lush vegetation for the likes of the tiger (and we remember Sasha the white tiger!!), or the savannah for the lions. The bars were replaced by big sheets of plexiglass, the penguins got more space to swim. The list of developments goes on and on!!
We haven’t been for a few years now, so paid a visit today. We were particularly struck by the enormous new Orangutan Forest – masses of space for these amazing creatures, and was Rajang the orangutan the same one we coo-ed over, two decades ago?? It would appear so, as he’s rapidly approaching 50.
And also new to us were the opportunities to get amongst some of the attractions – walking through butterflies, gorgeous parrots, and even wallabies, with no barriers between us and them.
The small bears were particularly cute, with a huge amount of space to live in – a far remove from the bear we recall from 30 years ago, walking back and forth in his small cage repetitively swaying his head. At that time there was a sign up saying that the zoo knew the cage was not appropriate, and they had taken the first steps in providing him with food in ways that required him to use his brain and stimulate him.
There’s a huge new chimp house being built, and the chimps today were taking it easy during the afternoon, with a pair of them cuddling each other right next to the windows.
There were several coaches parked outside, and lots of well-behaved school children inside soaking up what was on offer. Lots of places to eat, two enormous shops on the way out, and most of it accessible, with only a few too steep slops and steps to navigate.
We’ll be making sure we don’t leave it so long until our next visit. And a final word of praise to the Tropeano family, and all the staff, for turning Colchester Zoo into something Essex should be hugely proud of. More details about the zoo at their website.