When Harold Goymour retired in 1952 after selling a thriving bakery business and bought a farm in Banham as a country retreat, with a view of enjoying country life with his wife Ethel, who would have thought that what started as a mixed livestock, arable and fruit farm would evolve into one of the UK’s most well-known zoos and major tourist attractions in East Anglia.
The farm sold produce, such as apples and strawberries, directly to the public and was also home to a small collection of ornamental pheasants which attracted a good number of customers to the area, despite the fact that Banham was not one of the easiest places to find, and to this day can prove elusive to the first-time visitor!
At this time it was easy to go into a local pet shop and buy anything from a crocodile to a chimpanzee, a bear cub to a lion cub! There were no import restrictions, no conservation and no rabies quarantine regulations, animals were being brought into the country by enthusiastic people wanting exotic pets.
However, as some of these exotic pets grew larger and their natural instincts started to emerge, they became dangerous to the household. The farm began to receive offers of exotic animals; people were begging the farm to take on their increasingly unmanageable pets. The first to arrive were two Canadian timber wolves, three Australian dingoes and a Himalayan bear.
Banham Zoo evolved, and in February 1968 the first visitor admission rate was charged; two shillings and sixpence for adults and one shilling for children, the money going towards the care and upkeep of the animals. The first animal house at the zoo was home to a mixture of African and American primates and some rather large snakes, and in the same year a Zoo Manager was appointed to look after the animals.
Conservation was coming more to the forefront and all imports had to be quarantined for six months. The Federation of Zoos imposed standards and then the government introduced the Zoo Licensing Act which, introduced stringent regular inspections.
During the 1970s, Banham Zoo became a serious zoological collection as well as a popular tourist attraction. In 1971, it became home to a group of woolly monkeys, and although the zoo no longer holds woolly monkeys there has certainly always been a special place for primates at Banham Zoo. In fact over the years Banham Zoo has celebrated a number of primate firsts – such as the first UK births of silvery woolly monkeys, silvery langurs, Weddell’s and white-lipped tamarins and L’Hoest’s monkeys, as well as crowned lemurs and Sambirano bamboo lemurs.
Throughout the late 70s and 80s, there were many new developments in the zoo, including the opening of a Lecture Hall for educational visits in 1979. This area is still home to the Education Department’s Activities & Education Centre, which is visited by around 15,000 school children from across East Anglia each year.
During the 1990s Banham Zoo continued to grow and develop, starting with the opening of a new Bird Garden in 1990. The Bird Garden was opened by Animal Magic’s Johnny Morris and at the time was home to a number of species including roadrunners, curassows, hamerkops and kookaburras. That year Banham Zoo was also presented with an award from the Federation of Zoological Gardens, the forerunner to the British Irish Association Zoos Aquariums (BIAZA), for the first captive breeding in the UK of yellow-faced Amazon parrots.
Banham Zoo is still home to over 50 species of birds, including a variety of species seen in the free-flying Birds of Prey and “Amazing Animals!” displays. The Birds of Prey Centre was built in 1998 and twenty years later is still home to daily free flying displays, including Rüppell’s griffon and white-backed vultures, blue & yellow macaws and a number of owl species.
Another bird that helped shape Banham Zoo’s footprint is the penguin! The original penguin enclosure, seen here in the early 1970s, was home to a group of Humboldt penguins. In 1991, a refurbished “World of Penguins” opened at the zoo for a colony of black-footed or jackass penguins, and included underwater viewing windows. The colony can still be seen at the zoo, and since 1993 over 100 penguin chicks have been raised. “World of Penguins” was replaced in 2015 by “Penguin Cove”, home to not only our black-footed penguins, but also African spoonbills and other African coastal birds. The larger, renovated enclosure includes a walk-through section, allowing visitors the chance to get even closer to these popular zoo residents. The breeding success continues, with 10 young penguins hatching this year.
Further developments in the 1990s included the Marmoset & Tamarin Islands, Heritage Farm Stables, a new siamang enclosure and the completion in 1997 of “Tiger Territory”, a large, wooded enclosure for a pair of Amur tigers. Over 4,500 visitors joined zoo staff on the day of the launch of the enclosure, officially opened by Falcon from ITV’s Gladiators!
Since then Banham Zoo has been actively involved in the International breeding programme for Amur tigers and we have had 6 births during that time, including the latest cubs, born in 2013, who left us for collections in Italy and Denmark in 2015. Banham Zoo is currently home to seven cat species, including snow leopards and Pallas cats, both of which have bred at the zoo in recent years. Banham Zoo has also celebrated some feline firsts, with the first UK birth of a black-footed cat in 1989 and that of a Sri Lankan leopard in 2006. Our latest litter of Sri Lankan leopards were born here in September 2017.
One of the biggest changes in Banham Zoo’s history came in 2013, when it moved from being a privately owned company to part of a charitable trust, the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA). Since 1991, with the purchase of what was then Suffolk Wildlife Park, Banham Zoo has worked together with its sister zoo, now Africa Alive!, to share experience, staff and space for housing species as part of numerous breeding programmes.
50 years of changes at Banham Zoo have also been accompanied by 50 years of changes in the wider world, and zoos now have a huge responsibility to help protect endangered wildlife around the world; through breeding programmes and in situ conservation, but also through education and connecting our communities with nature.
Martin Goymour, CEO of the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA) whose father started the business 50 years ago will be retiring at the end of the year and Professor David Field has been appointed chief executive designate of ZSEA. David comes to the ZSEA charitable trust from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) where he has worked for 15 years, latterly as Zoological Director responsible for London and Whipsnade Zoos. Martin and David will work together at Banham Zoo and Africa Alive! to the end of the year.
As part of the Zoological Society of East Anglia, Banham Zoo’s and its sister park Africa Alive! goals are now clearly defined: Conservation, Education and Animal Welfare. The goals may have changed but the energy and enthusiasm that created Banham Zoo in 1968 has not!