Wild Zoo Gardening

Mike Thomas wild zoo gardens memo
Gardens memo by Mike Thomas Director / owner of Newquay Zoo, 1993-2003 

“Remember Zoo Grounds should be a jungle – dense and interesting.”

Cornwall is a county well known for its amazing exotic and varied gardens, gardens  which attract tens of thousands of visitors from around the world each year.

Following up our recent post on the wild edges of gardening at Newquay Zoo, https://newquayzoohistory.wordpress.com/2017/11/22/the-half-round-and-bus-shelter/

here is an interesting short memo to our gardens team by Mike Thomas in the late 1990s / early 2000s:

“Remember Zoo Grounds should be a Jungle – dense and interesting. Do not chop anything down. (Only do) Minimum pruning, weeding, edging, digging. Nothing more. Mike.” 

Still wild – the Maze Road wild flower bank, Newquay Zoo 2017 

Maybe the memo was inspired by a return to the Lost Gardens of Heligan look (when it was lost or overgrown, “asleep” before it was discovered again)  or avoiding the overclipped and very neat style of some gardens and amenity horticulture.

The original zoo planting in 1969 was planted by Head Council Gardener Ernie Littlefield, aided by young apprentices like Michael Perry. Mike Perry returned to the zoo for a number of years from c. 1993 to garden it again when Ernie retired, giving a garden continuity of 30 to 40 years.  The late Ernie Littlefield was our guest of honour at the Zoo’s 30th Birthday, returning to see how his trees and shrubs had grown.


1999 30 birthday Littlefield
Cornish Guardian, c. 26 May 1999 – Ernie Littlefield cuts the cake for the zoo he planted,  Newquay Zoo’s 30th Birthday.  


There are some amusing stories about zoo gardens in Mike Thomas’ memoir Strange Things Happened on My Way to The Zoo  https://newquayzoohistory.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/strange-things-happened-on-my-way-to-the-zoo-by-mike-thomas/

Mike tells the story of the occasion (late 1990s / early 2000s) when ‘Exotic Clive’ (of Hardy Exotics) planted what seemed like thousands of pounds worth of hardy exotic plants in and around the zoo. These proved an expensive overnight snack to a range of equally exotic wildlife from capybara to free-ranging mara and wallabies. Whoops!


“An attractive selection of Wild Animals in Six Acres of Landscaped Gardens2 (Newspaper Adverts, 1969) 



Newquay Zoo Gardening, planted by Head Council Gardener  Ernie Littlefield, early 1970s  Newquay town guidebook.  A mix of Cornish exotic (palms?) and amenity horticulture bedding. This photograph shows the original Zoological Cafe (still standing!) and planting on what is now our front lawn, Bird Hide and Birds of Brazil aviary.  


Now our gardens are managed by the combined experience of our onsite team of  Steve, Roy and the rest of our Site and Maintenance team  and  the wider gardens team based at Paignton Zoo, headed by Giles Palmer and the former Director of Newquay Zoo, Stewart Muir, now Director of Living Collections (Plants and Animals) at all three of our sites. The fruits of this combined experience can be seen in the new “Gems of the Jungle” walkthrough aviary and its exotic planting (opened 2017).

Our sister zoo Paignton Zoo has long been a recognised Botanic Gardens, part of the international botanic gardens education and horticulture network,  as well as a ‘zoological gardens’ like Newquay was originally styled in its early adverts.

Both Giles and Stewart have just come back from an exciting rainforest trip to the jungles of Vietnam – part of the link between a zoo and the wild  that is modern conservation.


A useful experience of a proper rainforest jungle.


“Remember Zoo Grounds should be  a jungle – dense and interesting.” 


Blogposted by Mark Norris, using the Newquay Zoo Archive collection.



Newquay Old Cornwall Society – Newquay Zoo news timeline 1985 to 1998

Newquay Zoo News Timeline

This timeline is based on the Chronicle page of the Newquay Old Cornwall Society NOCS website

I have typed out the relevant zoo entries, compiled it appears from newspapers. This covers a useful gap in the Zoo’s press cuttings archive which only really exists in any detail from about 1994/5 onwards.
Jan 1985 Snow storms severe
May 1985 Bank Holiday weather a washout May 1985 8 foot Boa Constrictor stolen
May 1985 Zoo denies Animal Rights complaints re Conditions.
October 1985 Zoo Python found in phone box

Jan 1987 – Snow
April 1987 – Cosy Nook and café complex should be sold
April 1987 £150,000 development at Zoo
July 1987 New Tropical House and Education Centre opened
October 1987 – Zoo record net profit £52,000

August 1991 Humboldt Penguin born

June 1992 Zoo baby Boom
December 1992 – Zoo in danger from starling flocks
Dec 1992 – Zoo – Council to sell?

February 1993 Zoo starling flocks gone?
April 1993 Animal World New name for Newquay Zoo
July 1993 Sea Life Centre to be built on Towan Prom
September 1993 – 12 prairie dogs arrive

December  news papers increasingly saw a zoo animal births of the year round up article.
Jan 1994 Sea Life Centre Foundation stone laid
March 1994 Animal World article / zoo article in Guardian
April 1994 – 3 Humboldt penguins born named Wet Wild Windy (Wild did not live very long)
April 1994 – Animal World extends hospital facilities
June 1994 – Sea Life Centre official opening
June 1994 – Zoo beats gull menace
December 1994 – Animal World baby boom
December 1994 – Zoo baby boom
December 1994 – Nativity Play with Live animals

January 1995 – Chunky Himalayan Bear put to sleep aged 28
March 1995 – Animal World python laid approx. 30 eggs
March 1995 zoo Diana Monkey baby born
March 1995 – Animal Rights Group peaceful protest march
June 1995 – Zoo News
August 1995 / April 1996 – Newquay University on the short list
Sept 1995 Animal encounter Sessions
Nov 1995 Animal World has oldest lady visitor 102 years old
Dec 1995 – New Arrivals

Around 1996 our own zoo press cuttings archive is better estableished so we can link these stories to ones in our archive much better.
Feb 1996 Trenance Pavilion near zoo – Council invite tenders
February 1996 Cream Coloured Asian otter born (named Cinnamon)
April 1996 – 2 meerkats and 2 tamarin monkeys born
April 1996 – P439enguin Chick hatched, Tapir acquired
August 1996 – Third Top award
Oct 1996 – Macaw born and reared
November 1996 Zoo spooky fun 1
Jan 1997 Chernobyl children in Cornwall (visited zoo)
Jan 1997 Hedgehog Hospital
May 1997 – Gulls declared war upon at Zoo
June 1997 – Tiles sold for Puma Enclosure
June 1997 – Craig Rich the SW TV weatherman meets Craig the penguin
August 1997 Zoo Feature and pics
October 1997 – Lion Ross put down
October 1997 – Round Table Toddle
October 1997 – 4 meerkat babies
October 1997 – Ross replaced and Zoo Feature
Jan 1998 – Black Created macaque born
Jan 1998 – Major storm damage
Feb 1998 – Wild and Whacky Workshop
April 1998 – Meerkat babies
(NOCS Timeline ends July 1998, created in November 2011 NOCs)


1994 and 1996 Newquay Zoo maps

1995/6 Newquay Zoo map
This should tally with the late 1996 Guide Book.



19934 NZ map.jpg
1994 Map 


1993 / 1994 map


Front of the 1996 map guide 

In 1996 the first new Zoo Guide for several years was published, after several years of rebuilding parts of the original 1969-1993 Council run Newquay Zoo. The 1996 featured a Black Lemur on the front and was used for about 5 to 6 years.


1996 Guide book – first for the  zoo under private ownership 



In between the 1970s/ 80s guide books and the new 1996 Guide book with colour map , a series of maps were available.


These simple printed A4 guide maps  are quite useful in looking how areas of the site have changed.

Our Zoo Archive store shed has had a bit of a leaky roof and damp problems recently, so now we are transferring these records and photos to our Education buildings where it will be easier to catalogue what we have.

For example the 1993/4 map lists Macaws where Tippy’s Café / Lazy Lions Grill is now located. Macaws were on this site in 1987/9. I remember this mostly as home to escapologist Banded Mongooses by 1995/6 before its rebuild in 1996 to Tippy’s seasonal cafe. https://newquayzoohistory.wordpress.com/2017/06/

In looking through boxes of photos handed over from Council run Newquay Zoo to Privately owned zoo (1993-2003), there is this blossomy picture of the temporary Scarlet Macaw enclosure. An aviary is listed on this area earlier in the 1980s but in 1969 it was listed as an otter pool, next to the sea lions (where the penguins now live).


Macaws on Tippys cafe site early 1990s
Note the handwritten Sign for Scarlet Macaws! 1980s to early 1990s This by 1996 had become Tippys Café, now renamed Lazy Lions Grill (2017). 


22. Mongooses on the 1996 Guide Book map (drawn by Mike Thomas?)



Maps like this help to tally in with stray photos or slide transparencies and negatives in out collection. This is all part of working towards our 50th anniversary in May 2019.

More nuggets or snippets of Newquay Zoo history  to look forward to each month throughout 2018 and 2019.

Happy Christmas from Newquay Zoo Archives!

Christmas past 2001 https://newquayzoohistory.wordpress.com/2016/12/

Blogposted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo.



The Half Round and Bus Shelter

The Half Round and the Bus Shelter, Newquay Zoo,  November 2017




One of the strange buildings from the 1970s near our 1982/3 Dragon Maze is the ‘Bus Shelter’.

For decades this oddly nicknamed little building has kept many visitors dry in the occasional rain that Cornwall gets.

It is built into the woodland bank of what is known to some as The Maze Road  and an older name, The Half Round.

I was never entirely sure why it had this name of old – is it because of its half a circle shape? Is it the  distance round the zoo from the Entrance, halfway round the zoo?

‘Public Shelter’ Newquay Zoo Guidebook map c. 1983 / mid 1980s


No. 23 Public Shelter  on our Children’s Guidebook c. 1989
1969 70 NZ map
Not there yet – the half round, maze  and bus shelter would be built late 1970s /early 1980s to  the left of areas 8 to 11 on this 1969 /70 map. Leopards (9) is where the new Gems of the Jungle now sits, 2017.


The clear plastic ‘Bus Shelter’ roof itself is supported by some old cast iron columns, possibly reused from another structure.


Despite decades of repainting, we can see that the  iron upright  columns are of local manufacture, from Sara and Sons, Redruth.

According to Grace’s Guide,  W. Sara and Sons of Redruth were Brass and Iron Founders. Their other work is frequently seen beneath your feet around Cornwall.


Proudly stamped ‘Redruth’, a relic of Cornwall’s past heavy engineering days.
An informative bit of reading whilst sheltering from the rain – one of our older endangered animal breeding programme sign November 2017.
More handy rainyday reading – a colourful large 2017 update sign on our onsite breeding programmes and  the overseas conservation where Newquay Zoo and the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust works.  It’s what we do …

Some of the stranger sights seen on the Half Round and from The Bus Shelter include the International World Pasty Flinging Championships (event currently resting, 2017).

Running alongside the Bus Shelter on the steep wooded bank above the Half Round / Maze Road is a native wildlife area.

This wild wooded bank area is home at one end to our 2004 / 2009 Newquay Zoo Time Capsule.

The strangest inhabitants along the Half Round or Maze Road in the past were a ‘lively’ family  of free-ranging rare Cotton Top Tamarins, released c. 1996  for a few years on wildness training into the treetops around their house on stilts built amongst these trees. But that is another story …

A little bit of wildlife gardening or leaving well alone …
Stoutly built Rockery beside the Bus Shelter, built c. 2009/10
Temporary sign renaming the Tarzan Trail area 2017
Once the steps (if not the door) to Adventure …
An even quieter edge to the Zoo, the Woodland Walk (Tarzan Trail site) minus the play equipment, Nov. 2017

woodland walk 2 2017 .jpg

Where monkeys once free-ranged c. 1996 … a view from the Woodland Walk (Tarzan Trail) over the Maze Road / Half Round Nov. 2017
And back down again …
A glimpse of some of the Tarzan Trail equipment newly added in this late 1980s / early 1990s Newquay Zoo / Animal World poster.
Half round build (Michael Perry source)
From our website: The half round being built (early 1980s) in a photo from retired Head Gardener Mike Perry.


Another quite little corner of Newquay Zoo’s history explored and recorded.

We will feature the Dragon Maze (built 1982/3) in a future blogpost.

As we approach our 50th Birthday in May 2019, we would love to hear your Newquay Zoo memories and see your early zoo photos. Contact us via the comments box.

Blogposted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo History blog, November 2017.

Material from the Newquay Zoo Archive.

Strange Things Happened on My Way to The Zoo by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas book cover

A  lazy blogpost for October 2017 – If you want to read one person’s entertaining view of Newquay Zoo’s history from 1993-2003, then this is the book to read.

Strange Things Happened On My Way To The Zoo by Mike Thomas

Published in 2010 by Cornish publisher Alison Hodge, copies are still available on Amazon, your local library and there are some good online bargains on second-hand copies.

‘Strange Things’  is the nearest thing we have to a Newquay Zoo history in print so far, albeit only covering the Newquay Animal World / Newquay Zoo years of private ownership from 1993-2003 by Mike Thomas and Roger Martin.

Mike grew up in Wales, taught in Cornwall, ran several businesses and eventually ran the Seal Sanctuary in Gweek until 1993/4. As a result, Newquay Zoo’s part of the Mike Thomas  story only begins 56 pages in but fills the rest of the 100 odd pages of pictures, many of the pictures by zoo photographer Michelle Turton.

There is too much to summarise in these 100 pages but it covers the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001, the Red Arrows ‘visit’, the 1999 Eclipse, various famous faces opening new enclosures, several years tracking down the truth behind the local Exotic Big Cat stories, along with many special animal births and a few sad partings.

MIke Thomas book cover back

I knew Mike and Jenny before they took on the zoo and when it first reopened, I was soon added to the small staff team, mostly in my case to set up a Zoo / College partnership and develop the promising schools work.

I’m mentioned in passing and pictured in the book, and was proud  to attend the book’s launch at Fowey Literary Festival 2010 with fellow zoo college colleague and Alison Hodge author Dr. Mike Kent.  Mike, Mike and I worked on the founding partnership of Cornwall College Newquay courses.

Gerald Durrell’s influence from Jersey Zoo is recognised in the book and also in the name of one of our college buildings.

Mike Thomas, ever the former teacher, mentioned on his retirement in 2003 that this college partnership was one of his proudest achievements  of his ten zoo years.

Now properly retired, Mike and his wife Jenny still pop in to the zoo quietly from time to time with various grandchildren to see how things have developed under the charitable trust ownership of the Whitley Wildlfe Conservation Trust, which took over running Newquay Zoo in 2003.  He is especially pleased how Cornwall College Newquay has grown and thrived since its beginnings in the year 2000.

My Amazon review at the time of the launch (2010) proabably says all I have to say about the book:

“Like others who’ve read & reviewed the book, this was revisiting an earlier part of my working life for me too at the same zoo. It’s a highly readable book (and I know a lot had to be left out too in this volume) but doesn’t avoid any of the difficulties we went through redeveloping the zoo. Mike crops up in Ben Mee’s ‘zoo rescue’ book too. Money was often very tight and Mike’s showmanship, gift of the gab, sense of humour and imagination were often needed. Often you can see how these qualities were drawn from his early life and experiences As a result, the book has its fair share of funny stories and character animals too, many of whom I remember (sometimes painfully, I got bitten by a fair few!) just as Mike describes them.”
“Researching the challenges facing wartime zoos as I am at the moment, I’ve read lots of zoo memoirs especially by directors. I know that it must be difficult fitting all one’s own viewpoint of complex, funny and difficult situations into one book and how difficult it is to describe to fit all the unusual characters encountered (zoo animal and human) in one volume, so I look forward to book two!”

Surfing Sue, another former member  of staff,  wrote on Amazon review:

“As a fellow traveller on some of Mike’s strange journey I knew much of the story but by no means all. He has led a fascinating life full of interesting characters, both human and animal. There’s Randy the potato loving raccoon, Peru the streetwise penguin and Exotic Clive the… you’ll have to read the book to find out what or who Clive is. Mike has an entertaining writing style that evokes the feeling of a coffee time chat rather than a faceless narration. His passion for education and dedication to the creatures in his care are an inspiration, as are the accolades he achieved whilst at the helm of the zoo.”

The book is a small tribute to a lot of hard work by a lot of people and to the great support by its many visitors over the years.

Not every event from 1993 to 2003 could have made it into this short book. Not every member of zoo staff  could be mentioned and many were the stories that staff regretted never made it into the book.


After all, it is Mike’s life story and can only be  one person’s view of running the zoo – many of the other  stories are tucked away in our Archive in the pages of Paw Prints our zoo newsletter. Material for future blog posts!

Several of our previous blog posts feature material from “The Mike Thomas Years” (1993-2003) at Newquay Zoo.

Posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo history blog, October 2017.


Two by Two into the Newquay Zoo Ark

ark entrance 1997
The Newquay Zoo entrance Ark c. 1996/7 (Mark Norris pictured right with David Woolcock from Paradise Park Hayle – for some forgotten occasion?)


If you have ever wondered why our Newquay Zoo Ticket Office and Entrance are called the Ark, here is why!

Around 1993/4 the original zoo entrance was remodelled by Mike Thomas into the shape of an Ark, complete with dove cot above (not fun to clean out).

The symbolism of the zoo as an Ark for endangered species was obviously the idea, based on Gerald Durrell’s book The Stationary Ark (1970s, still in print, still a good read).

ark gates mural 1997
Sadly there is no record of who these young people are! c. 1996/7


These gate murals of  animals going into the Ark, painted  to celebrate  the rebuilt ARK entrance at Newquay Zoo, caused  occasional confusion amongst visitors.

ark-gates-mural-1997 crop
Fuzzy blow up of the Ark gates mural of animals we had and noticeably didn’t …


“Where were the giraffes, the rhinos, the elephants shown on the gates?” asked slightly annoyed or puzzled visitors.

It would be another ten years, a change of name  and another change of ownership before we sort of did have giraffe, rhino and elephants – by joining up with Paignton Zoo as part of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust (WWCT). If I now  get asked where our elephants or giraffes are, I usually now point helpfully in the direction of Devon.

David young opening Ark 1994
TV’s David Young, new zoo owner Mike Thomas and Deputy Mayor of Restormel Mrs Avis Job (previous operators of Newquay Zoo / Animal World) outside the newly constructed Ark entrance c.  1993/4. Note the old logo and the New Arrivals at Animal World sign – Damara Zebra on to our ‘old’ African Plains in the centre of the zoo. This is probably lovely old Etosha the Zebra.


David Young, who is seen in our  press cutting (c. 1993/4) opening the new Zoo entrance, was the host of the TSW show on South west television called Oliver’s Travels, after his dog Oliver (which makes him one of the few non-assistance dogs to have been allowed on site).


Then 1996/7 and now 2017 …


The heritage rust of our gates have recently been renewed with new gates for the first time in at least 25 years, maybe even 48 years …

Our shiny new Newquay Zoo gates and the Ark entrance, 2017.


The old pigeon or dove cot (note the Biblical Ark story symbolism) is now quiet, claened out and boxed in.

Where pigeons once cooed … inside the zoo and the Ark entrance 2017.

So that is the story of the curious ongoing name of the Ark?

Some staff might remember an attempt to rename this area in a staff suggestion / competition when the murals,  pigeons and doves  had gone and the Ark shape had been partly removed.


The winning suggestion was “The Lodge”, but many years later this has never really caught on. The Ark it still is then …

Cheski (keeper Mark Tomaszewski) mentioned on our phone list above is another big chunk of Newquay Zoo history, whom we will feature in our November or December Newquay Zoo history blog post.

Posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo History blog, September / October 2017.

Newquay Zoo Fossas 2003 to 2017


Newly arrived Fossa, our cover animal for the 2003/4 Newquay Zoo Guidebook.


Whoops! We forgot to do a Newquay Zoo history blog post in August and September 2017, so here is another passing bit of Newquay Zoo history to enjoy.

A busy few months. So here is the August blog post in October.

This month’s photo shows the new 2017 sign on the old small 1970/1 African Lion House at Newquay Zoo.

This enclosure also once housed rescued Pumas Shane and Tina (1990s) and then from 2003,  a pair of rare Madagascan Fossas called Mavis and Harry, pictured on our 2003/4 Guidebook.

The Fossas were named after local early adoptors Mavis and Harry Everitt. Their baby Litle Geoff was born 2007 (named after staff member the late Geoff Gerry) and later went off on breeding loan to a zoo in Poland.

Mavis died a year or two ago. The ageing Harry patiently waited for a suitable female to become available somewhere in the UK or Europe  – then a new host zoo and prospective partner turned up in the U.A.E.

Harry left Newquay Zoo on April 7th, 2017.

We are told that  Harry  has settled well into his new zoo and some of the pictures of him settling in  are used on our  colourful temporary sign “Bye Bye Harry!”

The near 50 year old enclosure is currently empty, awaiting redevelopment over time as funds become available. Watch this space.

Another little snippet of Newquay Zoo history.

Posted by Mark Norris, Newquay Zoo History blog, August / October 2017.