|Location||Dudley, West Midlands, England|
|Land area||40 acres (16 ha)|
|No. of animals||940 (2006)|
|No. of species||163 (2006)|
|Major exhibits||Tigers, Chimpanzees, Lemur Wood|
Dudley Zoological Gardens is a 40-acre (16 ha) zoo located within the grounds of Dudley Castle in the town of Dudley, in the Black Country region of the West Midlands, England. The Zoo opened to the public on 18 May 1937. It contains 12 modernist animal enclosures and other buildings designed by the architect Berthold Lubetkin and the Tecton Group. The zoo went into receivership in 1977 and was purchased by Dudley Metropolitan Council. Dudley Zoo is now operated by Dudley and West Midlands Zoological Society, founded in 1978 and a registered charity.
The owner of Dudley Castle, the Third Earl of Dudley, decided to create a zoo in the castle grounds in the 1930s. The initial Board of the Dudley Zoological Society was made up of the earl, Ernest Marsh (director of Marsh and Baxter) and Captain Frank Cooper, owner of Oxford Zoo, who wanted to sell his animals and it was Oxford Zoo, which closed in 1936, that supplied Dudley with the majority of its initial collection of animals. The zoo was built between 1935 and 1937, with Dr Geoffrey Vevers, the Superintendent at London Zoo acting as an advisor. Thirteen zoo buildings were designed by Berthold Lubetkin and engineering was carried out by Ove Arup. The steepness of much of the terrain and the presence of caverns produced by limestone mining in previous centuries presented the architects and builders with a number of difficulties. Further constraints were presented by the castle being a scheduled monument, its structure and immediate surroundings being protected by a government department, the Office of Works.
The architects chose a deliberately modern style for the animal enclosures, entrance and visitor refreshment facilities, making no attempt to match the appearance of the castle ruins. The main material chosen for the construction was pre-stressed reinforced concrete which gave the possibility of forming curved structures and projecting platforms. It was decided to avoid cages where possible and to display the animals in a deliberately artificial manner rather than create an imitation of natural surroundings.
The zoo opened on 18 May 1937. The opening day was a great success, with over 50,000 people recorded as visiting the zoo, whilst many others had to be turned away, such were the crowds.
The opening weeks of the zoo were not always so positive though as on 18 June 1937, a Malayan Brown Bear escaped from the zoo, bit a Dudley resident, was struck by a policeman's truncheon and spent a few hours in local gardens before recapture. Just 3 days later the animal made another escape, this time being shot dead in the castle grounds.
A miniature railway was added in 1938 with two locomotives constructed by G & S Light Engineering, of Stourbridge.The locomotives ran on a track about 1 mile long, carrying up to 150 passengers.
The zoo was bought by the Scotia leisure group in 1970. In 1977, the zoo went into receivership but was bought by Dudley Metropolitan Council. Finally, in 1978, a charity, The Dudley and West Midlands Zoological Society was set up to run the zoo, although the council still owns the grounds.
In 1979, the Penguin Pool had to be demolished because of damage to the concrete caused by the salty water. This was the one major original animal enclosure to be lost.
In 2003, in common with other urban zoos, Dudley parted with their two female African elephants so that they could benefit from more spacious surroundings. The remaining large animals include giraffes, tigers, lions, reindeer, wallabies, and three snow leopards, the latest being born in May 2013. Primates are well represented, and there are several aviaries and a reptile house. The zoo has over 1,000 animals from over 200 species; most of these are endangered and are the product of captive breeding programmes.
There was a time where the Dudley Zoo housed polar bears and Southern elephant seals. It was once home to Cuddles, a male orca, or killer whale. He was housed at the zoo from 1971, until his death in February 1974. The dolphin and whale pools were modified seal and sea lions pools with the walls being built up to create more depth. However, these plans fell foul of the local planning laws and the zoo was ordered to return the pools to the original state. As the zoo was not prepared to invest in new purpose built pools the whale Cuddles was put up for sale, but died before being moved, from long-term gastro-intestinal problems. The pools were returned to their original design and now house sea lions.
The zoo is currently expanding its education department with a variety of workshops available for schools.
The zoo buildings include twelve listed buildings, seven Grade II and five Grade II*, erected in 1937 by Berthold Lubetkin's Tecton Group which employed, among others, structural engineer Ove Arup. Most of the zoo buildings are art deco in style.
In 2011, the zoo announced refurbishment and renovation plans for the zoo's listed buildings and parts of the zoo itself; totalling £1.15 million. Initial funding for the project has been met by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
In January 2013, newly released construction proposals indicate the entrance to the zoo will connect with the Black Country Museum and the Dudley Canal Trust, creating a single entrance for the three attractions. The new entrance was completed in September 2015. Focus will then shift to the bear pits, which zoo officials say will be renovated to provide "a dramatic backdrop in the landscape". This was the subject of an investigation by the Born Free Foundation in 2012.
Listed Lubetkin and Tecton Buildings at Dudley Zoo
- The Castle Restaurant
- The Elephant House
- The Entrance Gateway
- The Education Centre (formerly the Moat Café)
- Tropical Bird House
- Sea lion pools
- Brown bear ravine
- Kiosk south of the former brown bear pit
- Former Station Café, now the Safari Shop
- Polar Bear Pit and Lion and Tiger Ravines
- Kiosk east of the former brown bear pit
- The former reptiliary, now the Meerkat Enclosure
A further Tectron building, The Penguin Enclosure, was demolished in the 1960's.
In 2015, 89-year-old artist Rama Samaraweera, who was inspired to paint while a keeper at Dudley Zoo, donated three original oil paintings to the zoo to express his gratitude. His painting Clouded Leopard was a best-selling print in America in the 1970s.
A visitor chairlift was erected between the zoo's entrance and the castle in 1958. It was taken out of use in 2000 due to health and safety concerns. In August 2012 the chairlift was reopened after a 12-week, £117,000 restoration which included returning it to its original light cream colour.
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- "KIOSK TO EAST OF FORMER BROWN BEAR PIT AT DUDLEY ZOO". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
- "MEERKAT ENCLOSURE AT DUDLEY ZOO APPROXIMATELY 2 YARDS TO EAST OF REPTILE HOUSE". historicengland.org.uk. Retrieved 2018-01-31.
- "Tropical Bird House, Dudley Zoo". BBC Online. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
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