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Welsh Mountain Zoo celebrates its 50th birthday

Laura Chamberlain

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Humboldt penguins, emperor tamarins and Bactrian camels may not be indigenous to north Wales, but if you know where to look you can find them all, and more, in a small pocket of a Welsh coastal town.

The Welsh Mountain Zoo in Colwyn Bay is home to over 100 different species and 600 animals. This weekend the tourist attraction celebrates its 50th anniversary, and has a special birthday weekend planned to mark the half century.

The sea lion enclosure, Sea Lions Rock. Photo: Welsh Mountain Zoo

The Welsh Mountain Zoo was opened by founder Robert Jackson on 18 May 1963. Sadly, Jackson died just six years after the opening of the zoo in a fishing accident.

His widow, Margaret Jackson, and their three sons took over the running of the zoo before the charity the Zoological Society of Wales (now the National Zoological Society of Wales) was set up in 1983 and took over the zoo's operation. It became the National Zoo of Wales in 2008, but is still commonly known as the Welsh Mountain Zoo.

The zoological director at the zoo is Nick Jackson, one of Robert and Margaret's sons. He explained how the zoo came into being.

He said: "Robert Jackson had been looking for a site to build a zoo since the late 1940s. Through the 1950s he ran small seasonal animal attractions, usually aquariums and what he called 'mini-zoos', in various seaside resorts around the UK. One of these was the Aquarium and Children's Zoo in Eirias Park.

"From this connection with the town, the council knew of his interest in finding a zoo site and in 1960 approached him to look at the Flagstaff Estate. He loved it, and construction of the zoo started in November 1962 and carried on through the worst winter weather in living memory. The zoo opened on 18 May 1963."

The lemurs look out at Lemur Lookout. Photo: Welsh Mountain Zoo

The zoo attracts around 140,000 visitors a year and has developed over the decades to introduce many new species. The lion enclosure was completed in 1967 while the penguin pool opened in 1975, otters were introduced in 1987 and the zoo began a red squirrel breeding project in 1989.

Chimpanzee World opened in 1990, meerkats became residents in 2010 and last year the lemurs got a new walk-through enclosure, called Lemur Lookout.

A meerkat at the zoo. Photo: Welsh Mountain Zoo

Jennifer McDonald at the Welsh Mountain Zoo told me: "When the zoo first opened it had just 100 animals, now it houses more than 600 animals from over 100 different species. The zoo is home to many rare and endangered species from Britain and around the world including snow leopards, chimpanzees and red pandas."

Events taking place to mark the zoo's half century include the birthday weekend celebration this Saturday and Sunday, a Love Your Zoo week from 25 May to 2 June and later in the year Shriek Week, to coincide with Halloween.

A view from the zoo in Colwyn Bay. Photo: Welsh Mountain Zoo

Development work is ongoing at the tourist attraction to keep visitors and animals alike entertained.

Jennifer added: "Currently, work is progressing to provide a modern new exhibit for the red pandas and Asian otters – two of the zoo's most popular residents."

For more information on the zoo visit the website,

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