Wildlife park plans major expansion
EXCLUSIVEBy David LennardONE of the region's top tourist attractions is due to be further improved this year to create "a real wow factor" for visitors.
By David Lennard
ONE of the region's top tourist attractions is due to be further improved this year to create "a real wow factor" for visitors.
Suffolk Wildlife Park in Kessingland was voted the top family attraction 2003 by the Good Britain Guide, but bosses have big improvements planned for this year.
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As part of a plan to attract more visitors to the 80-acre site, a new Plains of Africa feature is being developed that will see rhinos, giraffes, ostriches, zebras and antelope wandering freely together just as they would in the wild.
Park director, Martin Goymour, said: "It is a really exciting venture and will definitely create a wow factor for Suffolk. We are currently creating a savannah stable block that will house the zebras and antelopes.
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"A new fence is also being constructed around the plains area and we hope to have everything completed by June this year."
As part of the new fence, specially-reinforced steel barriers are being put in place at a low level to deter the park's rhinos from attempting to charge a way through.
"Recent additions including new rhino and giraffe houses have made a tremendous difference, but this new feature will be something special," said Mr Goymour.
It is the 13th year the wildlife park has been in the same ownership and during that time visitor numbers have increased by 71%.
"When we took over we had 83,000 visitors a year and last year we achieved 142,000 so in 2004 we are hoping to double the number of visitors we had in our first year. It is a costly process to continually bring in these improvement, but we think it is worth it," said Mr Goymour.
A planning application has just been submitted to Waveney District Council for a new restaurant and train station at the park.
It already operates a "road train safari" to take visitors around the site and the new station building would provide a suitable place for people to leave pushchairs and buggies.
"It would also give somewhere for visitors to stay in the shade during the long hot summer days we are all looking forward to," said Mr Goymour.
There are also plans for a second African-themed restaurant at the park. "As visitor numbers increase we have to provide more catering facilities and this is what we are aiming to do," he added.
Suffolk Wildlife Park has recently received two young white rhinos from Whipsnade Park, taking the number at the attraction to four.
"We put a great emphasis on education and helping to preserve endangered species and this has proved extremely popular with members of the public. We also want to provide an exciting day out for all members of the family," said Mr Goymour.
Tourism is playing an increasing role in supporting the economy of the Waveney area, which now supports about 4,500 full-time equivalent jobs.
Figures from the East of England Tourist Board also showed tourism was worth £148million to the area's economy.