Blackpool Zoo's longest serving keeper retiring after nearly 50 years

A zoo keeper with almost five decades at Blackpool Zoo under his belt is packing his trunk and retiring after almost 50 years of caring for its animals.

By Rebecca Beardmore
Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 3:38 pm

Peter Morris 65, of Wateringpool Lane in Lostock Hall, was just 17 when he started his first day at Blackpool Zoo in 1973.

As the zoo’s longest serving employee, Peter joined the zoo a year after it first opened, and has worked with some of the world’s most endangered animals including elephants, rhinos and primates.

Friends and colleagues plan to give him a heart-warming send off when he hangs up his keeper wellies for the last time on April 30.

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Peter Morris, Blackpool Zoo's longest-serving zoo keeper, is retiring after 48 years. Photo: Blackpool Zoo

Peter said: “There was nothing else I ever wanted to do as a career and, and if I had my time again, I would choose exactly the same path as a zoo keeper.

“In the early years I was offered promotions but turned them down as I didn’t want to be office based. I wanted to stay working with the animals which I have always loved.

"I think my favourite memories of working here was working with the elephants. I don't think many people realise that they are just like humans in many ways.

”They have their own personalities, no two elephants are the same. I've also really loved working with the primates for the past 13 years and interacting with them all."

Peter said he was fond of animals from a young age, as his grandparents owned a farm where he spent a lot of time.

His auntie also taught him all about birds, and he is still a keen bird watcher.

In 1971, while working on a dairy farm at the age of 15, Mr Morris heard that a zoo was being built in Blackpool.

He wrote a letter asking for a job saying he had a keen interest in wildlife and animals.

Two years later, Peter landed the role of a trainee keeper on £13.46 a week, travelling to and from his home in Preston on his bicycle.

Three years after that he became a fully-fledged keeper.

According to meticulously-kept ledgers at the Zoo, the price for admission in 1973 was 33p for an adult and 15p for a child.

If you wanted to visit the Bird Hall it would cost an extra 5p per person, and a zoo guide would set you back another 15p.

The weather during Peter’s first week of work was described as "cold and fine", and 3158 people visited across the seven days.

Bison, wilderbeast, zebra, tapir and camels were among the first animals Peter cared for, followed by 10 years working with elephants.

He said he had a "huge soft spot" for Crumple the elephant, who died 13 years ago.

Peter then spent more than 20 years working with primates.

One of his fondest memories of being a zoo keeper included being chased by a male ostrich who pulled his jacket off while he ran out of the enclosure, leaving him with bruised ribs.

Staff at the Zoo said he will also be remembered for carrying his DAB radio everywhere so he could listen to rock music while he worked.

Charlotte Pennie, head of primates at Blackpool Zoo, said: “Pete will be greatly missed by everyone. He is the longest serving member of staff we have ever had and his fitness for his age is amazing. He is funny, caring and can talk for England.

“He has lots of very good relationships with the primates because he knows food is the way to their hearts.

“Zoo keeping has changed massively over the years especially in terms of health and safety. Peter has seen Blackpool Zoo evolve and develop and he especially enjoys the quieter winter days.

“Unfortunately, due to Covid we aren’t able to celebrate Peter’s retirement in the way we would like with a big party but we are hoping to purchase an animal statue for him, and I am sure he can visit the zoo anytime he wants for the rest of his life!”

Peter will retire on April 30 after notching up 48 years’ service.

He plans to spend a long and happy retirement using his Lancashire Wildlife Trust membership to visit bird reserves, fly fishing, cycling, and getting back to the gym.