The rise and fall of a beloved Norfolk wildlife park

A family meet a llama on the opening day of Kilverstone Wildlife Park

Opening of Kilverstone Wildlife Park, 1 April 1973. - 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.

Brownies have afternoon tea in the monkey house at Kilverstone Wildlife Park

Brownies have afternoon tea in the monkey house at Kilverstone Wildlife Park, 19 April 1984. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

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.

A spotted big cat looks through a fence

Kilverstone Park Easter - Credit: Archant Library

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?

LADY FISHER WITH FALLABELLA PONY ARGENTINA

LADY FISHER WITH FALLABELLA PONY ARGENTINA AT KILVERSTONE WILDLIFE PARK DATED 1988 - Credit: Archant Library


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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.

a little girl smiles as she hugs a Lion Statue

Henrietta Kilverstone Lion Statue. Date: 16.7.84 - Credit: Archant Library

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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.

A crowd gathers at the opening of Kilverstone Wildlife Park.

Opening of Kilverstone Wildlife Park, 1 April 1973. - Credit: Archant Library

A large crowd gather for the opening of Kilverstone Wildlife Park

Opening of Kilverstone Wildlife Park, 1 April 1973. - Credit: Archant Library

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.

Llamas at Kilverstone Wildlife Park,

Llamas at Kilverstone Wildlife Park, January 1979. - Credit: Archant Library

“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.

A big cat yawns at the now closed Kilverstone Park

Kilverstone Park Easter 5.4.71. - Credit: Archant Library

Lord and Lady Fisher were heartbroken. A campaign to save the park failed and Lady Fisher said she cried for weeks.

Brownies have afternoon tea in the monkey house at Kilverstone Wildlife Park

Brownies have afternoon tea in the monkey house at Kilverstone Wildlife Park, 19 April 1984. - Credit: Archant Library

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.

A woman holds baby penguin at Kilverstone Wildlife Park

A baby penguin at Kilverstone Wildlife Park, 16 April 1984. - Credit: Archant Library

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.

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