Colchester: Zoo stands tall to celebrate its 50th birthday

Colchester Zoo founders Frank and Helena Farrar being interviewed, sitting with their pet lion Rajah

Colchester Zoo founders Frank and Helena Farrar being interviewed, sitting with their pet lion Rajah who lived at home with them in Southport. - Credit: Contributed

THESE days the lions at Colchester Zoo stay safely in their enclosures – but 50 years ago they enjoyed an evening with the family in the front room.

The giraffes from Colchester Zoo’s Stand Tall project are collected from education sponsor Sportsafe

The giraffes from Colchester Zoos Stand Tall project are collected from education sponsor Sportsafe UK - Credit: Contributed

This picture, left, has been released to celebrate the zoo’s 50th birthday alongside a series of special events including the unique Stand Tall project.

Zoo historian Dr Samuel Chris Kershaw said the zoo had enjoyed a varied history since it was opened in 1963 by Frank and Helena Farrar.

He said: “The couple had opened their first zoo in Southport 10 years earlier due to their passion for big cats – they even kept a tame lioness at home after buying it from a pet shop.

“In fact, their first zoo may never have opened at all if it hadn’t been for their neighbours, who were very uneasy about the fact that a lioness was living amongst them. The Farrars opened the zoo to appease them, eventually relocating the animals to a new zoo in Colchester a decade later.

“One of Colchester Zoo’s biggest characters was a leopard called Chiefy who appeared in lots of films like Cool Mikado with Frankie Howerd. It was believed that the zoo had the largest collection of big cats in the country at the time.”

In March 1983, Frank’s niece Angela Tropeano took the helm with her husband Dominique. She died in 2011 but Dominique still directs the zoo with their son Anthony.

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The Stand Tall campaign and the 50th birthday celebrations have been dedicated to her memory. Stand Tall is a large-scale public art event which will see 30 2.5m giraffe statues decorated in distinctive designs and located around the streets, parks and open spaces of the town. There will be a trail of a further 80 1.3m giraffes, all painted by schoolchildren as part of the project, which is backed by Colchester-based Sportsafe UK.

The statues, which will be designed and painted by local professional artists, will be unveiled on June 2. After the 12-week display, they will be auctioned to raise money for the zoo’s charity Action for the Wild.

Director Anthony Tropeano added: “We are very much looking forward to our 50th birthday celebrations to thank the people of Colchester for their support over the years.”

For more information visit www.colchesterzoo.org

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