The rise and fall of a beloved Norfolk wildlife park
- Credit: Archant Library
We were standing in the middle of Thetford chatting away when suddenly – a little head popped up from my companion's handbag.
It looked around and so did the people passing us in the street and then the crowds gathered to watch this dear little baby monkey.
The well-known owner of the bag and monkey was Lady Rosamund Fisher who, with her husband Lord John Fisher, ran the wonderful Kilverstone Wildlife Park, a place which I suspect many of you visited in days gone by.
This was back in the late 1970s when she was caring for a tiny Peruvian spider monkey after its mother died. It had to be kept warm and fed every two hours. When she went out, it came with her.
The lord and lady loved their animals with such a passion… where else would the smallest horses in the land wander about inside a stately home?
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It was a privilege to have known this wonderful double act who brought exotic animals from South America to give them a new life and to charm and delight the people of East Anglia and further afield.
A trip to Kilverstone Wildlife Park was a day to remember and many schoolchildren visited as part of their education.
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Who could ever forget the fabulous Falabellas, the miniature horses which arrived from Argentina? A star attraction at the only Latin-American wildlife park in the world at the time.
It was in the spring of 1973 when around 2,000 people gathered to watch TV personality Frank Muir open what was then called the New World Wild-Life Park. He did so by releasing a flock of birds from a cage to fly free.
They founded it after visiting Brazil. There were more than 200 animals and birds in the park and within a few years it grew and grew, becoming a top tourist attraction in Norfolk attracting huge crowds.
By the 1980s the wildlife park, home to so many South American animals, threatened by extinction in their natural habitat, was visited by around 180,000 people a year, but the costs were mounting.
“We once made a profit,” said Lady Fisher. “But we went out to dinner to celebrate, and ended up spending it all!”
They had a hard-working and loyal staff but the food for the animals cost around £140,000. Then there were the vets bills of £14,000 and so much more.
As the decade moved on the costs kept mounting. The writing was on the wall. They sold their valuable paintings and other belongs but to no avail. They couldn’t carry on. The money was running out.
Lord and Lady Fisher were heartbroken. A campaign to save the park failed and Lady Fisher said she cried for weeks.
In 1991 the park closed. The animals went to other zoos and wildlife parks and the rest of the stock and attractions, such as a half-size replica of the Flying Scotsman locomotive, were auctioned off.
At an auction, attended by people from across the country who bought up the park’s attractions, Lord Fisher said: “It is not the sort of day to remember.”
Many of us will remember them and their wonderful wildlife park.