Forty-five years after first opening its doors to visitors, Blackpool Zoo has spent the lastyear celebrating with some new arrivals, major milestones and a TV makeover.
Among the year’s highlights have been the birth of some rare species and the completion of Project Elephant – the zoo’s single largest investment in its history.
In January, keepers hosted a birthday party for a 35-stone centenarian, also known as Darwin the aldabran tortoise.
He was one of the first animals to arrive at Blackpool Zoo and, although there are no detailed records of his history, keepers believe that this year would likely have been his 100th birthday year.
In March the zoo celebrated World Water Day by taking delivery of a 55,000 litre water tank to harvest rain and surface water for its new elephant house, which will enable staff to clean the house, power the sprinkler systems and fire the water cannons in the elephants’ 225 square metre pool.
April saw the zoo welcome its 15 millionth visitor. Manchester mum Julie Splaine walked through the doors to a fanfare including prosecco, chocolates, free zoo membership for her whole family and a giraffe feeding experience.
There was a triple celebration a few weeks later when the UK’s only father and son coalition of lions celebrated their ninth and second birthdays in the same month, marking a decade since the grand opening of the revamped Pride of Blackpool Big Cat House.
In July, TV favourite Alan Titchmarsh and his trusty team from ITV’s Love Your Garden descended on the zoo.
The horticultural heroes transformed a piece of grassland outside the keepers brew room into a magical hideaway for resident keeper JohnPaul Houston and his colleagues to spend time in.
August saw the announcement of the birth of the zoo’s first giant anteater.
The species is the most threatened in South America and in some parts of the continent there has not been a sighting for many years.
Keepers are waiting to confirm if the pup is male or female, but have named him Gorrie after a dear friend and loyal member of the zoo Lynne Gorrie, who died this year.
September saw the retirement of one of Blackpool Zoo’s longest serving members of staff, following 44 years of dedication to all creatures great and small.
Animal manager Peter Dillingham joined the zoo when he was just 32 years old after embarking on his dream career on his 16th birthday.
A few weeks later, a YouTube sensation arrived in Blackpool, in the form of Bornean orangutan Jingga.
She shot to internet fame in 2015 when a video of her hilarious reaction to a magic trick went viral - racking up a mammoth 20 million views online since then.
The seven-year-old female moved from her Spanish home to Blackpool Zoo to live with resident male Ramon as part of the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP).
Blackpool Zoo also announced the sex and name of the newest addition to its gorilla troop in October. It was confirmed that the tiny baby, who was born on September 5, is a boy and he has been named Makari by the zoo’s social media following.
November saw the hugely-anticipated announcement that Blackpool Zoo is set to become home to a herd of elephants from Twycross Zoo following the completion of its multi-million pound ‘Project Elephant’ development.
Four females, who currently reside in the Leicestershire zoo, will be packing their trunks and arriving two by two in the New Year.
The move comes after months of behind the scenes work with experts from the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and Twycross Zoo’s team of specialists to secure the future of these magnificent animals.
Project Elephant, which will open in Spring, is one of the UK’s largest indoor elephant facilities and has been built on previously vacant land at the zoo, opening up an additional three acres to visitors.
Resident Asian elephant Kate, who was also one of the first animals to arrive at Blackpool Zoo shortly before it opened in 1972, made the short journey across the zoo to move into the new house in November and is already settling in well, according to the zoo.
The final new arrival of the year was a critically-endangered baby pileated gibbon who was born on November 29 to experience mum Ivy, and the pair can be seen in in the Small Primate House.
Darren Webster, managing director of Blackpool Zoo, said: “It‘s been an incredible year of momentous occasions and we are all looking back on a very exciting, and busy, 12 months. We have welcomed the birth of some extremely rare babies and, at the other end of the scale, celebrated the birthday of our oldest resident Darwin.
“It has been great to see Project Elephant take shape and we are delighted to see that our resident elephant, Kate, has settled into her new home. She will be joined by four more females from Twycross Zoo and we are looking forward to the grand opening of Project Elephant in Spring
“The keepers are all really enjoying spending time in the wonderful garden that Alan Titchmarsh and his team from ITV’s Love Your Garden created and despite the typical Blackpool weather threatening to wash it all away just hours before the grand unveiling, it really is a fabulous space.
"I would like to thank all my staff for their hard work throughout this memorable year, and thank all our new and returning visitors for their continued support.”