Makari Czar and Dmitri at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on May 12, 2020

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is celebrating 90 years with 11 days of special activities

Celebrate the UK’s largest zoo’s 90th birthday

Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 10:52 am

Anyone who feels they have missed out on their share of celebrations over the past year needs look no further, as ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is about to pull the streamers on its 90th birthday.

The UK’s largest zoo is about to turn 90 years old, and, although there will be no blowing out of candles this year, it is marking the date with 11 days of special activities, that can be safely enjoyed by families, across its 600-acre site.

Kicking off the celebrations in style, the 90th visitor on the zoo’s birthday - Sunday, May 23 – will be invited to meet and feed the herd of reticulated giraffes, including five-month-old giraffe calf Margaret.

For the weekend of its birthday (22-23 May) and throughout May half term (May 29, to June 6), the zoo will be running a fun, birthday treasure hunt. Any child that finds a treasure token hidden somewhere in the huge grounds will win a prize.

Families can also follow the birthday trail around the zoo and collect a free sticker when they have completed it.

Back at the Event Hub, visitors can create birthday-themed crafts including origami elephants to celebrate one of Whipsnade’s most iconic animals, as well as take a look at how the keeper uniforms have changed over the decades.

Visitors looking to learn more about the zoo’s history as a centre for conservation, as well as a glimpse into the quirky Whipsnade of yesteryear, can sign up for a 'What makes a Whipsnade?' family-friendly tours, running throughout half-term - advance booking required.

Even the animals will be getting in on the fun, with keepers giving some of the animals special 90th birthday treats, from colossal snacks for elephants to the kind of party food that a bear likes to get its paws on.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, or Whipsnade Park Zoo as it was then known, first opened to visitors in 1931 as the first “open zoo” in Europe to be easily accessible to the visiting public.

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 with the aim of promoting worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats, and, while London Zoo was already part of their work, there was a desire to expand the charity’s remit to include an “open zoo” in the countryside.

A derelict farm on the Dunstable Downs was purchased by the Zoological Society of London in 1926 and building work began immediately. Animals began arriving at Whipsnade in 1928, with pheasants, llama, wombats and skunks among the first to arrive.

When Whipsnade Park Zoo opened on May 23, 1931, it was an immediate success and welcomed tens of thousands of excited visitors in its opening week.

It’s distinctive, chalk, hill figure of a white lion, which measures a gargantuan 147m from nose to tail, was completed in 1933. During the Second World War, the Whipsnade White Lion had to be camouflaged with green paint, turf and netting. The Zoo also acted as a refuge for animals evacuated from London Zoo during the war years. 

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo is home to 3,500 amazing animals, including brown bears, Amur tigers, spritely squirrel monkeys and adorable otters. Proudly helping to protect endangered species, Whipsnade has contributed to reintroductions of extinct-in-the-wild species, such as the Przewalski horse and the Scimitar Horned Oryx.

Tickets can be booked in advance on the ZSL Whipsnade Zoo website.

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