There was cause for Happy Feet at Lotherton Wildlife World this week as its newest residents celebrated the opening of the first phase of the £1.2m redevelopment of the attraction.
The colony of 17 Humboldt penguins are now nicely settled in to their new home at the Aberford estate’s Coastal Zone after moving in from their previous homes, zoos in Dudley and Newquay, a few weeks ago.
Lotherton Hall’s huge new 120,000 litre penguin pool, complete with above and below water viewing areas, gives the creatures plenty of opportunities to show off their swimming skills to visitors.
Leeds City Council’s animal curator, Peter Quince, said: “It’s been great to see the penguins settling in so well to their new home and they really are a fantastic addition to the Lotherton family.
“Each of the birds is a character with their own unique personality, so we’ve been enjoying getting to know them as much as they’ve been getting to know us. They’re also very playful and curious birds so they’ve been having lots of fun exploring the pool and Coastal Zone.
“Our hope is that while visitors enjoy seeing these fantastic birds interactive with each other and their environment, they also learn more about the work we are doing to protect and preserve vulnerable species for future generations.”
Native to the west coast of Chile and Peru, Humboldt penguins are classified as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Their new home features natural surfaces and the pool to allow them to behave like they would in the wild and also breed, meaning Lotherton can contribute to the national breeding programme.
The attraction will also include interpretation and activities to raise awareness of the conservation pressures affecting animals across the globe as well as information about ways everyone can do their part for global conservation.
Also making their first public appearance was Arthur, Lotherton’s first tapir, a large herbivorous mammal, native to South America and the estate’s new capybara, which are the largest living rodents in the world.
Arriving from Flamingo Land in North Yorkshire, Arthur will soon be joined by a female tapir from Scotland.
Leeds City Council’s executive member for environment and sustainability, Coun Lucinda Yeadon, said: “It’s a very exciting day for Leeds to see the first phase of this spectacular new attraction opening its doors and to welcome our penguins to their amazing new home.
“Lotherton Wildlife World will be a unique addition to our city’s thriving visitor economy and a wonderful experience for people coming from far and wide to see these incredible animals.
“But it will also provide important support for the protection and conservation of species which are under threat and which need our help to maintain a healthy, sustainable population.”
Lotherton Bird Garden first opened at stately home Lotherton Hall in 1980 as a small collection of waterfowl, poultry and ducks - but has grown to hold more than 450 individual birds.
The plan for Lotherton Wildlife World includes several zones’, introduced in different phases, the first being the Coastal Zone.
Future phases will include the Forest Zone, home to woodland mammals as well as a new visitor centre and shop; an Africa Zone, featuring a new mongoose exhibit; a Tropical Zone, which will include tropical birds and new conservation facilities; a Children’s Zone, with a small zoo and farm animals; an Asia-themed zone with red pandas and an otter exhibit and lastly a South American area which will house a marmoset exhibit.
The redevelopment, set to be complete by spring 2019, could see Lotherton attract an extra 70,000 visitors each year.