Although not always apparent in modern day, Chessington started its life as just a Zoo, with a handful of light rides (Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, carousel etc) and the animals being the star attractions. Chessington wasn’t just a Zoo, it was a world famous zoo, with a great history, and a massive selection of animals, and in 2006, and it was Chessington 75th Anniversary of being a zoo.
For the 75th anniversary Chessington placed boards up around the park, informing guests of what used to be where the rides now sit, with this, they also made a gallery in the Market Square with boards and photos spanning back decades as the history of the zoo was put up for all to see.
The biggest new piece of 2006 was the opening of Creature Features, the new animal area, with new houses for the Meerkats, plus new animals in Skunks and Wallabies. (See Ride section for more information) These are the boards from inside the Market Square gallery, along with the picture boards; there was also a 7 minute video, on the parks transformation from just zoo, to more theme park. So why was it changed? Well as trends changed and a new form of family days out also changed, this moved Chessington onto becoming a theme park too, with bigger rides, attracting more people.
So have times now changed again? Personally, I think they have, while back in the late 80’s, early 90’s animals of the more wild kind were more around, Lions, Tigers, and even to some extent, Rhinos and Elephants weren’t as rare as they are today, and people wanted something different. Where now with animal programs, wildlife programs, and even documentaries like Planet Earth, the focus is now back on animals, and demand to see them has been at its greatest for many years, while theme parks fall by the wayside yearly, zoos are growing bigger, and bigger, and are also all year round places.
So did Chessington celebrate its 75th anniversary, or simply rub there noises in it? Well always one to defend Chessington, on this occasion, they have rubbed there noise in it, some of the greatest animals that have graced the Chessington grounds, are now replaced by rabbits and goats.
Yes they have the rarest Lions and Tigers in the world, and are also one of few UK places to keep the Lowland Gorilla, but the new Safari Hotel, should have been a massive celebration with some of the animals coming back to the park. Hopefully in the future the animals take prime position and more will come in.