From 'the worst zoo in the UK' to popular attraction: Looking back on Paradise Wildlife Park's 37 years
- Credit: Paradise Wildlife Park
From once being known as "the worst zoo in the UK" to one of Hertfordshire's top tourist attractions, it's been a rollercoaster ride for Paradise Wildlife Park.
The family-run zoo in White Stubbs Lane celebrated its 37th anniversary on April 1, 2021, and it's been an incredible journey since 1984.
Had you arrived at the then Broxbourne Zoo 37 years ago, all you would have found is some rubble and a lonely lion in a cage.
Today, the site is filled with more than 800 happy and healthy animals, surrounded by a dedicated team.
Tigers, lions, red pandas, penguins, reptiles, camels... the animal park hosts a wide variety of species alongside the neighbouring World of Dinosaurs creatures.
After a challenging 12 months due to coronavirus lockdowns, Paradise Wildlife Park reopens on Monday, April 12.
The zoo is a beacon for conservation and has created wonderful habitats for its big cats and other endangered species – with the new Land of the Tigers is the first of its kind in the country with tigers Aleena and Siberia sharing the enclosure with grass carp and koi carp.
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This year will see Sun Bear Heights open at Paradise Wildlife Park. This will be the first UK habitat to house sun bears, otters and binturongs all in one habitat.
Without the dedication of the various PWP teams, the zoo near Welwyn Hatfield would not have been able to grow into the much-admired park it is today.
This mentality has been at the core of Paradise Wildlife Park since 1984.
When the time called for everyone to work together to help Bobby the lion, office workers, coach drivers and neighbours all came together.
Lynn Whitnall, chief executive of Paradise Wildlife Park and director of charity Zoological Society of Hertfordshire, looks back at those early days and how it has shaped her into the woman she is today.
Lynn said: "My first memory is Bobby the lion spraying me on a hot summer's day when I was working on the zoo.
"My second memory is sleeping in the stable with the pot-bellied pig as he was very unwell and needed a needle put into him to release the gases from his stomach overnight which was an absolute delight!"
From the park’s humble beginnings, that true passion for wildlife conservation and welfare has continued through the generations.
Brothers Aaron, Tyler and Cam Whitnall are now heavily involved in Paradise. The siblings even had their own CBBC TV show 'One Zoo Three' last year.
"Passionate, caring and a family community I think sums up Paradise Wildlife Park," said Lynn.
"I feel very proud of what has been achieved over the 37 years by our family and all the different teams and volunteers.
"Also, our achievements with breeding, education and conservation around the globe but most of all seeing our visitors have good old family fun."
It is clear these sentiments are also echoed in the different departments of Paradise Wildlife Park.
There is a common misconception that zoos are run by keepers alone. However, this is not the case.
Paradise Wildlife Park runs off a foundation of expert employees specialising in zoo keeping, gardens, maintenance, park services, catering and retail, and administration.
Lucy, from Park Services, said: “The team here is like its own family. Working at Paradise Wildlife Park has made me more confident as a person."
Zoo keeper Bethany said: “I love working for Paradise Wildlife Park because it’s a family-run business.
"It is a very tight-knit community here and we get to see the owners every single day, as well as be involved in decisions.
"We get to see Paradise Wildlife Park take part in conservation projects overseas and we get to work with many endangered animals here at the park every day, too.”
Fellow zoo keeper Claire said: “I have been here at Paradise Wildlife Park for 25 years, starting at working experience level to now being a full time zoo keeper. It’s basically like a second family.
"All the staff, keepers and animals all work as one. I love working with such a variety of different animals, from hoofstock to reptiles and big cats, there’s always something to learn and enjoy”
Matt, from the maintenance team, said: “I love working at Paradise Wildlife Park because of the variety of work I get to do in a variety of places at the park, as well as working with the animals themselves.
"I also have the privilege to work with such fantastic people.”
Anna, from marketing, said: “Working at Paradise Wildlife Park has built my confidence not just as a marketing professional but also as a person as well.
"I feel very honoured to say that I have made lifelong friends, as well as excellent teammates.
"I love being able to promote such a wonderful message of animal welfare and conservation and education, while also making it fun and engaging for everyone.”
As it reopens to the public on April 12 following the third national lockdown, Paradise Wildlife Park needs that community, friendship and love for animals more than ever.
Love for animals is what kept the zoo afloat in 2020.
Not just from staff and volunteers, but also the zoo's incredible supporters.
Paradise received food deliveries, amazing handwritten letters of support, donations to its JustGiving page, coverage in the press, and fantastic engagement on its social media pages.
Lynn thanked Paradise's amazing supporters.
"If it was not for the commitment of our family and team, we would not be where we are today, and they should all be exceptionally proud of Paradise Wildlife Park and our charity work through the Zoological Society of Hertfordshire and The Big Cat Sanctuary.
"To our members, a huge thank you for their ideas, support, funding and donations. Also, to the general public, especially for the support and donations through the past 12 months.
"We look forward to welcoming them back as we reopen. It is so lovely to have a team around me that is so knowledgeable, passionate and caring."
In a video post to the public on Instagram, site planning coordinator Aaron Whitnall said: "Your support for Paradise throughout this lockdown has been overwhelming.
"I cannot even begin to tell you how thankful all of us at Paradise are for that support."
Visitors will also notice a few changes around the park, with a one-way system around the zoo, extra COVID-19 measures in place and online pre-booking only.
Aaron added: "We are still constructing our new jaguar and sun bear habitats. So please bear with us whilst this work continues.
"We just want to make sure that when these are completed our animals have the best possible welfare and husbandry within the exhibits – and our visitors get the best possible views of these stunning species."