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Chester Zoo celebrates 90th anniversary with unique archive photos

The history behind the famous Chester Zoo has been released in archive pictures to mark its 90th anniversary.

1931 Chester Zoo founder, George Mottershead
1931 Chester Zoo founder, George Mottershead

Chester Zoo, which first opened its gates on 10 June 1931, has looked back through its library of historical documents and files and shared some of the most momentous and significant moments in the conservation charity’s history.

They say a dog is a man's best friend. Well, in this case, it became apparent that a dog can be friends with any animal. In 1942, a 15-month-old lion attracted a huge amount of attention after developing an unlikely companion - Peter the dog.

They include an image of visitors entering the zoo for the very first time, letters and postcards sent to congratulate its founder George Mottershead on the award of his OBE for services to conservation, and a picture of a giraffe which featured in the Guinness Book of Records in the 1960s for being the tallest ever recorded.

1960 - The tallest giraffe ever recorded (at the time) was a Masai bull living at Chester Zoo, named George. He featured in the Guinness Book of Records and measured just under 20 feet in height.

The zoo said it believes that some of the photos, which have been in storage for decades, have never been shown to the public before.

1977 - Chester became the first zoo in the UK to successfully breed endangered Asian elephants. The first to be born was a calf who was later to be named Jubilee by viewers of the BBC's TV show, Blue Peter.

Jamie Christon, CEO at Chester Zoo, said: “What started off as a family run zoo in Chester back in the 1930s has now grown into a globally-renowned centre for conservation and scientific excellence, and one of the UK’s biggest and most popular visitor attractions.

Visitors at Chester Zoo through the ages

"From first becoming a charity in 1934, to opening the first zoo-based endocrinology lab to closely study animal hormones in 2007, to unveiling the UK’s biggest ever indoor zoological building in 2015, to launching an ambitious Conservation Masterplan to prevent wildlife extinction as recently as this year, we’ve often led the way in terms of creativity and innovation.

Visitors at Chester Zoo through the ages

“Conservation has long been at the heart of everything we do. This zoo and its expert staff have been the first to successfully breed many of the world’s rarest species, from the critically endangered Javan green magpie to the prehistoric-looking tuatara, establishing vital insurance populations for threatened animals.

Visitors at Chester Zoo through the ages

"We’ve reintroduced species to the wild, from barn owls to eastern black rhinos, and currently run 50 vital conservation projects in 21 different countries.

Visitors at Chester Zoo through the ages

“Progressive zoos like ours are powerhouses in conservation. Our unique combination of thriving animal populations, millions of visitors, scientific research and wide-ranging skills is simply invaluable to wildlife, globally.

2017 - Six pairs of one of the world’s rarest bird species - the Javan green magpie - were flown to Chester Zoo from Indonesia in a bid to create a new breeding programme save them from extinction.

“Looking back at our incredible 90-year history puts us on solid foundations. But as the world reaches a tipping point in the biodiversity crisis, what we do next in our fight to prevent extinction has never been more important.”

2015 - Chester Zoo opens ‘Islands’ - the largest zoo development ever seen in the UK.

Looking to the future, in 2021 conservation scientists at the zoo unveiled “the most ambitious plan” in its 90-year history – a new set of targets to secure a future rich in wildlife.

It comes as experts warn that the planet is facing its biggest climate and biodiversity emergencies in a millennia. Experts at the zoo say the plan is committed to the recovery of endangered species, tackling the challenges faced by wildlife both in the UK and globally, and empowering communities to pursue pro-conservation behaviours.

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