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Twycross Zoo is a large zoo near the village of Twycrossmarker in Leicestershire, close to the border of Warwickshiremarker (on the A444 about off the A42/M42). The zoo was founded in 1963 by Molly Badham and Nathalie Evans. In 1972 it became a charitable trust (The East Midland Zoological Society). The zoo attracts around 500,000 visitors a year. In 2000 Badham and Evans co-wrote Molly's Zoo, a book telling the story of the zoo's history.

The zoo is open from 10:00 am all year round except Christmas Day, and closes at 5:30 pm in summer (4:00 pm in winter).

Animal exhibits

The zoo is notable for having the largest collection of primates in the world. It is the only British zoo to exhibit all four species of great ape, including the UK's only group of breeding bonobos (which joined the zoo back in 1992). It is also known for its large collection of chimpanzees, some of whom famously featured in television commercials for PG Tips tea.

Twycross Zoo also holds a diverse collection of other animals, many of them threatened species. They include the Amur leopard, the rarest big cat in the world with only 30–40 animals left in the wild. The leopards at Twycross are part of a European endangered species captive breeding programme. In December 2006, twin cubs were born, both male. Unfortunately their mother died shortly after the birth due to illness, so the cubs are being hand-reared.

A group of four female Asian elephants occupy a sizeable enclosure on the west side of the zoo. The females are all of breeding age, but the current facilities are not adequate for keeping a bull elephant for breeding purposes. Rather than extend the facilities or lose their elephants completely, Twycross are looking into the possibility of artificial insemination.

Also here are Asiatic lions, giraffes, Bactrian camels, Patagonian sea lions, penguins and many other mammals, birds and reptiles.

Recent developments

The Tropical House, opened in 2005, houses a variety of South American species in a natural walk-through rainforest. Groups entering the house are accompanied by zoo staff and are limited in size. Displays outside the house explain how people live in the rainforest, including a selection of plants and trees that can be harvested for food. Inside the house, a "ranger's hut" includes a specimen tank that houses endangered blue poison dart frogs. The main rainforest exhibit houses free-roaming species which include common marmosets, green iguana, Linne's two-toed sloths and many varieties of tropical birds. There are also turtles, fruit bats, spiders and a boa constrictor tank. The Tropical House formerly housed the zoo's reptile collection.

Improvements to the elephant paddock were completed in spring 2007. The new-look exhibit features a sand paddock with standing dead trees, a mud paddock, three outdoor sleeping pens and the UK's largest elephant pool. Other work continues around the elephant enclosure which is due for completion around summer 2008.

In July 2007, Twycross Zoo dedicated a new exhibit to Miss Mary Brancker CBE - a Founding Trustee of the Zoo, President of the Twycross Zoo Association for 15 years, the original vet for over thirty years and the first female President of the British Veterinary Association - in recognition of her lifetime commitment to both Twycross and animal welfare. The Mary Brancker Waterways and Bornean Longhouse features a walk-through exhibit with waterfowl and Bornean birds and turtles. Educational material explains how people live in the traditional longhouses in Borneomarker. An enclosure for Scottish wild cats is also featured.

Future developments

In September 2007, Twycross Zoo announced that it had received a grant of £3 million from the East Midlands Development Agency which has helped it to achieve its fundraising target for a new £11 million visitor centre.

The project will transform the main entrance to the zoo, and will feature an eco-friendly building containing a gift shop, cafeteria and information about the zoo's conservation work. The development will also feature a new enclosure for snow leopards and a large aviary. Construction is due to start towards the end of 2008 and is expected to take 18 months.Twycross Zoo recently parted company with its deputy director, Mr John Ray after 22 years loyal and dedicated service to the zoo. Mr Ray was a stalwart of Mr Ivan Ellis' and Suzi Boardman's vision of the Zoo's future.

Allowing re-introduction of hybrid tiger controversy

Tara, a hand-reared supposedly Bengal tigress acquired from Twycross Zoo in July 1976 was trained by Billy Arjan Singh and reintroduced to the wild in Dudhwa National Parkmarker, Indiamarker with the permission of India’s then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in an attempt to prove the experts wrong that zoo bred hand reared Tigers can ever be released in the wild with success. In the 1990s, some tigers from Dhudhwa were observed which had the typical appearance of Siberian tigers: white complexion, pale fur, large head and wide stripes. With recent advances in science it was subsequently found that Siberian Tigers genes have polluted the otherwise pure Bengal Tiger gene pool of Dudhwa National Park. It was proved later that Twycross Zoo had been irresponsible and maintained no breeding records and had given India a hybrid Siberian-Bengal Tigress instead, although at the time, and taking into account information received regarding all of the tigers kept at Twycross Zoo, it was believed that Tara was a pure Bengal tiger at that time. Dudhwa tigers constitute about 1% of India's total wild population, but the possibility exists of this genetic pollution spreading to other tiger groups, at its worst, this could jeopardize the Bengal tiger as a distinct subspecies.

With the advent of co-ordinated breeding programmes for numerous species help in captivity and standardised electronic animal record keeping systems (ARKS)it is now possible to track the different subspecies that are managed and ensure that these are managed as pure subspecies. Twycross Zoo is now recognised as having a database of the animals in its care, both current and historically, that is comparable to any major zoological garden worldwide. Additionally several breeding programmes are managed at Twycross Zoo, including Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persicus), Patagonian sealion (Otaria byronia), siamang (Symphalangus syndactylus) and saddle-billed stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis).

References

  1. Indian tiger isn't 100 per cent “swadeshi (Made in India)”; by PALLAVA BAGLA; Indian Express Newspaper; November 19, 1998
  2. Tainted Royalty, WILDLIFE: ROYAL BENGAL TIGER, A controversy arises over the purity of the Indian tiger after DNA samples show Siberian tiger genes. By Subhadra Menon. INDIA TODAY, November 17, 1997
  3. The Tale of Tara, 4: Tara's Heritage from Tiger Territory website
  4. Genetic pollution in wild Bengal tigers, Tiger Territory website
  5. Interview with Billy Arjan Singh: Dudhwa's Tiger man, October 2000, Sanctuary Asia Magazine, sanctuaryasia.com
  6. Mitochondrial DNA sequence divergence among big cats and their hybrids by Pattabhiraman Shankaranarayanan* and Lalji Singh*, *Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Uppal Road, Hyderabad 500 007, India, Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, CCMB Campus, Uppal Road, Hyderabad 500 007, India
  7. Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA), Government of India
  8. "Indians Look At Their Big Cats' Genes", Science, Random Samples, Volume 278, Number 5339, Issue of 31 October 1997, 278: 807 (DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5339.807b) (in Random Samples),The American Association for the Advancement of Science
  9. BOOKS By & About Billy Arjan Singh
  10. Book - Tara : The Cocktail Tigress/Ram Lakhan Singh. Edited by Rahul Karmakar. Allahabad, Print World, 2000, xxxviii, 108 p., ills., $22. ISBN 81-7738-000-1. A book criticizing Billy Arjan Singh's release of hand reared hybrid Tigress Tara in the wild at Dudhwa National Park in India


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