Orangutans, gorillas, snow leopards, simulated rainforests and even simulated rain - and all thanks to two women 50 years ago. Star reporter Rachael Clegg takes a look behind the scenes of the country’s biggest zoos, Twycross
were it not for two rival pet shop owners in the early 1960s, one of the nation’s biggest zoos wouldn’t exist.
But thanks to Nathalie Evans and Molly Badham, Twycross Zoo - one of the most popular days out for Sheffield families - came into being.
Both women owned pet shops in nearby Sutton Coldfield before they joined forces and moved to Hints Zoological Society near Tamworth.
But soon Molly, Nathalie and their collection of animals had outgrown the three-quarters-of-an-acre site and in 1962 the two entrepreneurial women took their animals - which included chimpanzees - to Twycross.
On Whitsun Bank Holiday, May 26, 1963, the doors to Twycross opened to the public for the first time. And today, those very doors continue to open for the public every day of the year except Christmas day.
And the zoo - now under the directorship of Suzanne Boardman - still obeys the same philosophy as that laid down by its founders - to raise awareness of the plight of animals across the globe.
The zoo is now known as the World Primate Centre, with 1,000 animals. It has gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, snow leopards and giraffes, among 200 other species from across the globe.
One of the zoo’s latest arrivals is a baby bonobo, which weighed just 1.44kg when it was born.
Charlotte Macdonald, living collection curator, says: “Keepers plan to care for the baby until she is a little bit older and not reliant on two-hourly feeds.”
“Although an anxious time for both keepers and staff at Twycross, following the months of preparation we have put into this birth we are very hopeful the introduction of the baby into the bonobo group will go smoothly.”
Indeed, the range of animals at Twycross is staggering.
In 2005, the zoo opened its South American Tropical House - an opening marked by a star appearance from actress and model Liz Hurley.
It is a pretend rainforest, complete with simulated thunder and lightning and tropical rainfall. Common marmosets run across the branches and roul roul partridges walk through the forest floor while visitors follow the trail which leads them through a bat cave back to the forest.
There is also the Borneo Longhouse, which was opened by Goldthorpe-born actor Brian Blessed in 2007. The Longhouse features a pathway, which winds through a sequence of exotic bird and animal exhibits immersed in landscaped aquatic gardens.
Two years ago, Twycross opened its Himalaya section, a 300-seater all-day restaurant with views of the snow leopard enclosure, which is set in a Himalayan environment, and a New England enclosure, which features wader birds.
At Twycross, all corners of the world - whether desert, rainforest or New England marshes - are brought together on one site and under several roofs.
And even better, the zoo is offering a special deal with a two-for-the-price-of-one offer for Star readers.
Twycross zoo takes part in many European and international breeding programmes and currently has more than 200 species enrolled in captive breeding programmes. The zoo also contributes to conservation in the wild through their Conservation Welfare Fund. The Conservation Welfare Fund has contributed nearly £200,000 since it was created in 2006, supporting more than 40 conservation and welfare projects across the world.
Twycross Zoo is the only zoo in the UK to keep and breed bonobos
Bonobos are humans closest living relative, sharing 99.6% of our DNA. They are physically different to the chimpanzee, as they are more slender, have blacker faces, central hair partings and red lips.
There are fewer than 100 bonobos in captivity in Europe – 11 of them are at Twycross Zoo
Bonobos live in communities of 30-80 individuals. They split and reform smaller groups of five to 15 individuals on a regular basis. Males remain with their birth group and females leave once they are mature. The groups are led by a dominant female. Social bonds are important and bonobos have complex communications. Sexual relations are important for bonding and will occur between any group members.
Most of their diet consists of plants, particularly fruit, but they will also fish for termites with sticks and eat other vertebrate animals up to the size of a small deer.
Bonobos belong to the great ape family, along with orang-utans, gorillas, chimpanzees and humans, and live exclusively in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The bonobo is classified as an endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, and it is estimated there may be as few as 5,000 left in the wild.