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Hertfordshire Zoo History

Going back over 50 years to the early 1960's you would have found a very different Zoo located on the current site of Hertfordshire Zoo.
Broxbourne Zoo, as it was then known, was privately owned by Cyril Stamp up to the mid 70s and then Peter Phipps to 1984.

The Beginning

Unfortunately a day out at Broxbourne Zoo was remembered for very different reasons to those attributed to a day out at Hertfordshire Zoo. The zoo was notorious for poor animal facilities and by the early 1980s was widely regarded and documented as the worst zoo in Britain. Thankfully, the Sampson family saw through the terrible reputation of Broxbourne Zoo when they purchased the site on the 1st April 1984. They could see the potential of the area for creating a Zoo the country could be proud of, with conservation and preservation of both rare and endangered animal species at its heart. With the Sampson’s drive and passion for wildlife, the unbelievable transformation had begun.

Challenges Ahead

The Sampson’s faced many challenges after securing the purchase, not least of which was complying with the The Zoo Licencing Act 1981. This document aimed to raise the level of the conditions and standards in wild animal husbandry and visitor facilities at zoos across UK. After acquiring Broxbourne Zoo, the Sampson’s were faced with the reality that they had little to no hope of raising the necessary funds to meet the criteria and achieve the granting of a zoo licence. The local media were very sceptical about the takeover some even questioning the sanity of the Sampson’s; considering how much work needed to be done.

Hard Work

What the media failed to take into consideration though was the Sampson’s determination to make the site a phenomenal success. Following an initial visit by government inspectors it was agreed that the best way forward, for the site to achieve the conditions for a zoo licence, was to cease operation while urgent work took place. The site closed on Christmas Day 1984.

The first stages of the Zoos renovation and transformation involved removing many of the old buildings, animal cages and fencing. Improvements were made to the infrastructure, water supply, gas pipes and electricity supply. This progress was quickly followed by the re-housing of Bobby the lion, converting the old café into what we now call Safari Sam’s and the provision of animal food preparation room, vets room and staff room.

The work the Sampson’s had put into the Park finally paid off in July 1985 when East Herts District Council granted a zoo licence. Subsequently the official re-opening of the site under the new name ‘Paradise Park and Woodland Zoo’ took place in Easter 1986.

Second Stage

The Sampson family’s work did not stop here though, to achieve their dream of turning their Zoo into a widely acclaimed wildlife park at the forefront of species conservation still needed more to be done. Their hard work and investment to improve the animal enclosures and public facilities, and their drive to enhance the public perception of Paradise Park and Woodland Zoo continued throughout the 1980s. The second stage of development included building new animal paddocks, improving the pathways and increasing tree planting around the site.

The Sampson family demonstrated their commitment to the project by selling their ‘Sampson Coaches and Buses’ company in 1989 and ‘MOT testing centre and garage’ in 1990 to allow them to concentrate solely on the management and finance of Paradise Park and Woodland Zoo.

Changing Times

It was the 1990s when the Sampson family dream really started to take shape. The changing of the sites name to ‘Paradise Wildlife Park’ signalled a new beginning of an increasingly brighter future for the site. This decade was vital to the development of the Park in all aspects; with the introduction of more spacious open enclosures, perhaps the most significant of which was the unveiling of ‘Tiger Lodge’ a new purpose built enclosure for Bengal & Siberian tigers in 1994; and positive changes such as the move towards many ‘hands on’ activities with the animals at the Park and an extensive on-site and off-site education programme.

Three new themed adventure playgrounds were also introduced to make a day out at the site even more memorable for visiting families. All facilities at the site were given modern renovations, and changes were made to better accommodate and fulfil the needs of disabled people, with the happiness of the parks visitors of paramount importance. Unsurprisingly with each improvement visitor numbers to Paradise Wildlife Park soared.

It was during this time that Paradise Wildlife Park became ‘Hertfordshire’s Number One’ (purchase ticket) visitor tourist attraction.

Paradise Wildlife Park, like many animal attractions, was forced to close (for the first time ever) by the Foot and Mouth epidemic in the spring of 2001.

The New Millenium

The new Millennium has witnessed a continuation in the improvements to Paradise Wildlife Park. New enclosures for meerkats, otters, Brazilian tapir, Red panda and European wolves have been assembled. Major work has been done to create new sections; ‘Squirrel Monkey Island’, ‘Wonders of the Rainforest’, ‘Cheetah Retreat’ and ‘Toucan House’. The ARC (Animal Resource Centre) is a fantastic new development which houses a veterinary and recovery room, animal food preparation areas, an animal records and research room, and impressive staff facilities. There has been extensive work completed on the paddock areas to improve drainage; much needed overflow car parking facilities have been added; improvements to the water supply. New electricity sub-station and back-up generator have all been new additions to this decade. Paradise Wildlife Park has also introduced ‘The Special Place’ a brand new play area adapted for use by children with disabilities.

In 2001, in keeping with their passion for wildlife conservation (Parkside Leisure, the parent company of) Paradise Wildlife Park purchased the site of the Big Cat Foundation in Kent. This was at that time a sanctuary operated by the Born Free Foundation. A new organisation was established by Paradise Wildlife Park called the Wildlife Heritage Foundation. During 2002 the Born Free Foundation and the Wildlife Heritage Foundation held a joint Dangerous Wild Animals Licence to operate the site. The site is now exclusively operated by the Wildlife Heritage Foundation (WHF), (registered charity number 1104420). The objective of WHF is to support conservation in-situ and ex-situ projects and to assist with endangered species breeding programmes. Paradise Wildlife Park financially supports WHF.

A New Era

From 2017, we officially became a fully registered charity, after renaming the charity Friends of Paradise Wildlife Park on January 1st as the Zoological Society of Hertfordshire. We launched the new charity to visitors on April 1st and celebrated 33 years of Paradise Wildlife Park.

One day after the charity launch, Paradise welcomed the birth of their first Jaguar cub, Keira, as part of the Endangered Species Breeding Programme.

Daughter of Peter Sampson, Lynn Whitnall was appointed Director of Paradise Wildlife Park and CEO of the Zoological Society of Hertfordshire.

The charity donated the first-ever animal ambulance to Africa, To the Ugandan Wildlife Education Conservation Centre (UWEC) in Entebbe to help rescue, rehabilitate and release animals back to the wild.

Our first-ever TV show aired on CBBC called One Zoo Three with the Whitnall Brothers, Cam, Tyler and Aaron Whitnall showcasing what the brothers get up to at the zoo, The Big Cat Sanctuary and supporting conservation worldwide.

Future Looks Bright!

In 2024, the county of Hertfordshire has seen a WILD shake up, as Paradise Wildlife Park based in Broxbourne is proud to have officially rebranded taking pride of place in the county as Hertfordshire Zoo.

The Park has seen dramatic changes since 2017, from new habitats for the animals such as the Amazon and Beyond to the Land of the Tigers. New attractions like the World of Dinosaurs and Sun Bear Heights have all been part of phase one of our long-term masterplan. With only a few months until our 40th anniversary the founder of Paradise Wildlife Park, Peter Sampson shared that “it’s time for us to look to the future and as the natural world does, evolve. By becoming Hertfordshire Zoo, we want to align ourselves more closely with the whole of the Hertfordshire community and establish ourselves as a good modern zoo that everyone across our county is proud of. We will shine a spotlight on Hertfordshire as a positive beacon for animal welfare, conservation, and education.”

Hertfordshire Zoo will be a truly inspiring experience and as trusted experts and advocates for conservation, we want to share the wonder of wildlife with children and adults alike. Educating our visitors on the positive impact of conservation and highlighting how we can all live a more sustainable way of life is at the heart of our vision for the future.

Paradise Wildlife Park has now become Hertfordshire Zoo with an official celebration of Hertfordshire Zoo taking place Easter 2024, near the Zoos 40th anniversary which will be the 1st of April 2024 and will see an exciting new chapter in the zoo’s history. As the family run charity enters the next phase of the long-term masterplan, which will see a host of new, amazing but sadly threatened species calling Hertfordshire Zoo home. Lynn Whitnall the CEO of the Park shared: “We hope the local community and supporters of the park can understand our reasons for this change and we hope you are as excited as we are for what is coming as we continue to develop and evolve.”

Follow us across our social platforms for exciting updates in the build-up to this wild change for not only the zoo but the whole county.




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