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Chester Zoo

Chester Zoo is located in the United Kingdom and has been operating since 1931 when it was opened by George Mottershead.

The zoo is one of England’s most visited zoo’s welcoming over 2 million visitors in 2019.

They have been the subject of many TV shows over the years including documentaries such as Secret Life of the Zoo and Zoo Days along with the Drama Series Our Zoo which was based on the book of the same name written by June Mottershead (the daughter of George).

Star Animals

George the giraffe

George was brought to Chester at 18 months old from Kenya. He was a masai giraffe who measured just under 20ft (6.1m) meaning he is the tallest giraffe ever recorded and was in the Guinness book of world records.

He is notable as the zoo’s telephone system went out one day and it was discovered that George had chewed through the wires when he found them in his enclosure.

Jubilee the elephant

Jubilee was born in the 1970s and was the first elephant born in the UK. In 1998 he moved to Belfast Zoo.

Chester Zoo



United Kingdom

Year Opened


Land Size

51ha (128acres)

Number of Animals

35,000 (2020)

Number of Species

500 (2020)

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As a boy at the turn of the twentieth century George Mottershead told his dad, “When I have a zoo, it won’t have any bars,” following a trip to a Manchester Zoo.

This dream came true when he opened in zoo on the 10th of June 1931. The zoo was situated on 2.8ha (7 acres) of land surrounding Oakfield manor. It cost him £3,500 and he moved his family there during 1930. He brought with him a group of animals for a zoo in Shavington.

On May 9th 1934 he created the North England Zoological Society. This society was a non-profit created to guide the future direction of the zoo.

During 1937 the first mandrill born in England was born at Chester. It was during this year that the zoo began producing a magazine. It was known as ‘our zoo news’ it has been in publication ever since and is still published as Z magazine.

The zoo’s first lions arrived in 1937. They were kept in by a 12 foot (3.66m) high chain link fence, now the world standard, this was the first time it had been used for lions. The zoo council was deeply opposed with half quitting in protest.

In 1941 the first elephants arrived. They were stranded when Doorley’s Tropical Revue closed due to the war. Supporters of the zoo offered to help pay for their care so they would not be destroyed. The elephants, Manniken and Molly, arrived on 28 August 1941 along with their mahout, Khanadas who had cared for them for most of their life.

For the first time in 1942 the zoo was able to turn a profit.

From 1949 elephant rides were offered at the zoo. During this year 319,423 people visited the zoo. Times became tough soon after as the Second World War broke out. Mottershead was resourceful to build the enclosures and was able to keep the zoo growing. An example was the 1950s polar bear habitat constructed from wartime road blocks and pillboxes.

At the time the zoo’s slogan was ‘Always building.’ George earned an OBE and honorary Master of Science degree and was the president of the International Union of Zoo Directors for a term.

During 1950 the tiger enclosure was completed and Cheka and Sultan the tigers were brought into the zoo. They were first tigers permanently housed at the zoo though some had been cared for at the zoo while the war was going on.

In 1952 three giraffes came to Chester from London. They were housed in a newly built giraffe house. An aquarium was also opened in this year. It was built over two years by Mottershead’s daughter June and her husband Fred in their free time. It had a flooded flat roof that housed fish which didn’t work as local birds began to catch the fish and drop them around the zoo.

Influenced by Carl Hagenback and his use of moats and ditches to replace cage bars Mottershead worked to bring this concept to his zoo. A chimp exhibit opened in 1956 that saw visitors separated by just a 3.7m (12ft) wide moat. These islands remain a centrepiece of the zoo.

In 1959 the first waterbus began taking visitors on trips around the zoos lake.

During 1962 the pachyderm house opened it was home to two black rhinos, three elephants, hippos and rhinos.

In 1963 1 million people visited the zoo.

The tropical house was opened during 1964.

1968 saw the zoo closed for 11 weeks till it was cleared of having any foot and mouth disease.

In the 1970s Chester welcomed the first elephant to be born in captivity. He was named Jubilee by viewers of TV show Blue Peter. He lived at the zoo till 1998 when he was transferred to Belfast Zoo.

George Mottershead passed away, aged 84, during 1978.

In 1981 an appeal for a penguin enclosure was held. It was highly successful and the new pool with underwater viewing was soon open. 12 Humboldt penguins were donated by Whipsnade Zoo with a further 12 black footed penguins moved from Amsterdam.

In 1986 the zoo was surrounded by a fence to meet the standards of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.

1991 saw the monorail open to help visitors traverse the site. It was opened by H.R.H the Duchess of Kent unfortunately it broke down on its first journey with her still on it.

During 1994 two firsts occurred. One was a pair of eight tuataras arriving from New Zealand. At the time Chester was one of only five zoos outside New Zealand holding them. They also bred the first tawny frogmouths in the UK.

In 1996 the condor cliffs aviary was opened.

Monkey Islands was opened in 1997.

Actress Elizabeth Hurley opened Islands in Danger during 2000.

In 2006 the zoo hatched its first pancake tortoise. During this year Elephants of the Asian forest was opened by His Grace The Duke of Westminster and TV presenter Phillipa Forester. It was also in this year the secret world of the okapi was opened.

May 2007 saw the opening of an expansion to the orangutan exhibit.

During January 2009 the Natural Vision master plan was revealed. It was a £225 million vision that would see the zoo become Europe’s largest conservation attraction. The first phase was to be a 56 hectare (140-acre) African rainforest-themed sanctuary. It would house chimps, gorillas, okapi, tropical birds and other species. It was also to have a hotel, conservation college and revamped entrance connecting to a marina that was to be built on zoo land. During 2011 these plans were shelved when £40 million potential funding was lost when the North West Regional Development Agency was abolished.

In 2011 the zoo created Act for Wildlife a separate brand and identity for their conservation projects.

2012 saw the opening of the first underwater viewing zone for giant otters in the UK. This cutting edge habitat was opened by the Lord Mayor.

In 2015 Chester Zoo opened phase one of Islands part of its revised natural vision master plan. This exhibit is themed around a range of South East Asian islands and featured Monsoon forest which was the United Kingdoms largest zoological building. This featured orangutans, birds, tortoises, insects and other animals.

In 2018 an electrical fault caused a fire in monsoon forest and this building unfortunately suffered significant damage. It is currently being rebuilt. Some birds, reptiles and insect perished in the fire.

In March 2019 the zoo opened a Madagascar habitat with a walk through lemur enclosure and fossa exhibit to highlight their work with these species in the wild.

During September 2019 the zoo decommissioned their monorail due to the high running costs and the small portion of the zoo which is covered.



Chester’s Zoo Handimals™ studio allows you turn your hand into an “elep-hand-t” or “chimp-hand-zee” in a few minutes.

Face painting

Let a professional face painter turn you into your favourite animal in minutes. This studio also offers temporary air-brushed tattoos.

Play Areas

Chester Zoo features three main playgrounds which allow for children to burn off some energy. These are Madagascar PLAY! themed around a Madagascar base camp, Ape around which is playground featuring climbing towers and a slide and Wildlife Wood which is a large play space with a range of different activities.

Treetop Challenge

Chester Zoo’s treetop challenge is an obstacle course with a range of challenges including 2 mini zip lines and is aimed at younger children.

Lazy River Boat Trip

Located in the Islands zone the lazy river boat trip takes you on a boat journey past the animals which call this exhibit home. Each boat is themed to a different island.

Main Exhibits

Painted dog exhibit

Travel to the field station of Mkomazi, Kneya in this immersive habitat where you will meet the African painted dog . It also provides a home for aardvarks and the rock hyrax a guinea pig sized relative of the elephant. This habitat was opened in 2011 by Tony Fitzjohn OBE, a renowned conservationist who has worked with painted dogs at the Mkomazi Game Reserve.

Asian Plains

Meet the endangered greater one horned rhino living alongside brow-antlered deer and black buck. These giants enjoy a heated mud wallow and large pool in their love shack which keepers hope will encourage them to breed.

Butterfly Journey

Enter the largest zoo-based butterfly house in the United Kingdom to see more than 300 species of butterfly from around the world. In the tropical environment of the house you will find many plants which provide feed for the butterflies. The zoo breeds a number of species but they also import some pupae from as far afield as Costa Rica which can be viewed in the Puparium. This initiative provides an income for rural communities.

Elephants of the Asian Forest

This state of the art habitat provides a number of features to improve the lives of the elephants. Their spacious house has sand and rubber floor to aid foot care. There is also off show space for training and management. Their outdoor enclosure features 1900 tonnes of sand normally used for soccer pitches that allows them to use the exhibit better. The enclosure also features fish and Derbyan parakeets.

Fruit Bat Forest

Meet Livingstone’s and Rodrigues fruit bats along with Seba’s bats. Travel through their darkened home as they avoid you while flying past. The habitat has over 300 bats. This includes a breeding colony of Rodrigues fruit bats which almost went extinct in their native Mauritius in the 1970s. Some were brought to Chester in 1984 and have bred well.

Realm of the Red Ape

This exhibit is the home to Bornean orangutans. Here a number of these animals have been bred. You can also meet lar gibbons which share this space and view Indonesian birds.

Spirit of the Jaguar

This habitat features the jaguar of South America. It also houses an impressive aquarium, bush dogs and two-toed sloths. Visitors can even take a rest in the cinema and watch a video on their conservation work in Brazil. The zoo houses both normal golden coated jaguars and the melanistic (black) jaguar.

Tropical Realm

Meet a number of small birds in this walk through habitat. There are 40 species such as the orange headed and chestnut-backed thrush. There are also important conservation species such as the socorro dove (which is extinct in the wild), Congo peafowl, Montserrat Oriole and the Salvadori’s pheasant. A number of reptiles are also found her such as the caiman crocodiles and dart frogs.

Tsavo Black Rhino Experience

The natural surrounds of this experience provide a home for a breeding group of rhinos. For a number of years this species has bred well. Chester studied rhinos to remove things which could alter breeding. They found that anything which mucks with their olfactory (smell) environment such as the use of cleaning materials. They support a number of conservation projects which they hope will save the low number of rhinos left in the wild.


The Madagascar habitat houses fossa and a walk through habitat for lemurs where you can walk among these endangered primates.


Opened in 2015 this immersive complex takes visitors to 7 Asian islands where you can meet species such as macaques, orangutans, tigers, sun bears, tapirs, birds, tree kangaroo and more. It is also the location of the lazy river boat ride which winds itself between the habitats.


Chester Zoo Website –

Amazing Facts Book

Our Zoo Book

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