PICTURE GALLERY: Dinosaur goes on the rampage in Norwich to launch Norfolk and Norwich Festival

A ferocious yet friendly prehistoric predator was let loose in Norwich city centre to kick-start the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Roaring at youngsters and surprising unsuspecting passers-by and shoppers, the australovenator dinosaur certainly caused a stir when it went on the rampage at The Forum in Norwich today.

Crowds of people young and old gathered to watch the antics of the prehistoric beast which explored Millennium Plain first and then squeezed through the doors of The Forum to take a look inside the building too.

The australovenator is the newest member of the Erth's Dinosaur Petting Zoo herd which has travelled from Australia to Norfolk especially to take part in the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

Over the next two weeks children from across Norfolk will get the chance to feed, water and pet the huge beasts as the zoo puts on free public shows in Norwich, Swanton Morley and King's Lynn, and also visits a number of schools.

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Scott Wright, director of Erth's Dinosaur Petting Zoo, said: 'People can come on stage and help us look after the dinosaurs - but like all wild animals we cannot always control them!

'People can expect to see a very new take on how dinosaurs are presented - in a museum they are seen as static objects or untouchable but our dinosaurs are walking, living, breathing dinosaurs.

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'We hope the show will inspire children to find out more about dinosaurs.'

When asked why he wanted to bring the Dinosaur Petting Zoo to Norwich, the festival's artistic director William Galinsky said: 'I know lots of children who are dinosaur crazy so when I came across Dinosaur Petting Zoo I knew I had to bring it to the festival. The children - and the adults - are going to love them. These dinosaurs are going to be like the rock stars of the festival!'

The 16-day festival which starts tomorrow and runs until Saturday, May 26 is an extravaganza of art, theatre, music, dance and more, and the free opening spectacle - Invasion by Close Act - will tonight see even more prehistoric beasts descend upon the city.

About the 2012 festival programme, Mr Galinsky said: 'You can expect rampaging prehistoric creatures, you can expect a fantastic show in cars on wasteland (Motor Show), you can expect 16 days of cabaret, comedy and music and a great time in the Spiegeltent.

'There will be some world class classical music at St Andrew's Hall, some brilliant gigs, theatre and dance at Norwich Theatre Royal, some really fantastic visual art, and lots, lots, lots more too.'

Among the events this weekend, the festival will be hosting a garden party full of free weird and wonderful entertainment at Chapelfield Gardens and Millennium Plain.

• Erth's Dinosaur Petting Zoo will be at Chapelfield Gardens, in Norwich, on Saturday and Sunday at midday and 3pm, and at Millennium Plain, in Norwich, on Tuesday and Wednesday at 4.30pm. The dinosaurs will also be at the Festival Feast in Chapelfield Gardens on Saturday, May 26.

• The Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2012 runs from May 11 to 26. For more information about the festival and how to book tickets for events visit www.nnfestival.org.uk.

Tickets can also be bought by phone on 01603 766400 or in person at Norwich Theatre Royal box office.

• Do you have a story related to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival? Call reporter Emma Knights on 01603 772428 or email emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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