Peter Morris was just 17 years old when he started his first day at Blackpool Zoo back in 1973 and now almost five decades later, he is retiring from the same job.
As the zoo’s longest serving employee, Peter joined the zoo a year after it first opened and has worked with some of the world’s most endangered animals including elephants, rhinos and primates.
Friends and colleagues plan to give him a heart-warming send off when he hangs up his keeper wellies for the last time on April 30th.
Peter explained: “There was nothing else I ever wanted to do as a career and, and if I had my time again, I would choose exactly the same path as a zoo keeper.
“In the early years I was offered promotions but turned them down as I didn’t want to be office based. I wanted to stay working with the animals which I have always loved.”
Peter was fond of animals from a young age. His grandparents owned a farm, which he spent a lot of time on, and his aunty taught him all about birds. He is still a keen bird watcher.
In 1971 at the age of 15 when he was working on a dairy farm, he heard that a zoo was being built in Blackpool. He wrote a letter asking for a job saying he had a keen interest in wildlife and animals.
Two years later Peter landed the role of a trainee keeper on £13.46 a week, travelling to and from his home in Preston on his bicycle. Three years later he became a fully-fledged keeper.
According to meticulously kept ledgers at the zoo the price for admission in 1973 was 33p for an adult and 15p for a child. If you wanted to visit the Bird Hall it would cost an extra 5p per person and zoo guide would set you back another 15p.
The weather during Peter’s first week of work was described as cold and fine and 3158 people visited across the seven days.
Bison, wilder-beast, zebra, tapir and camels were among the first animals he cared for followed by 10 years working with elephants - he had a massive soft spot for Crumple who passed away 13 years ago. He then spent more than 20 years working with primates.
Fond memories of being a zoo keeper include being chased by a male ostrich who managed to pull his jacket off while he ran out of the enclosure, leaving Peter with bruised ribs.
He will also be remembered for carrying his DAB radio everywhere so he can listen to rock music!
Charlotte Pennie, Head of Primates, said: “Pete will be greatly missed by everyone. He is the longest serving member of staff we have ever had and his fitness for his age is amazing! He is funny, caring and can talk for England.
“He has lots of very good relationships with the primates because he knows food is the way to their hearts!
“Zoo keeping has changed massively over the years especially in terms of health and safety. Peter has seen Blackpool Zoo evolve and develop and he especially enjoys the quieter winter days.
“Unfortunately, due to covid we aren’t able to celebrate Peter’s retirement in the way we would like with a big party but we are hoping to purchase an animal statue for him and I am sure he can visit the zoo anytime he wants for the rest of his life!”
Peter will retire on April 30th after notching up 48 years’ service. He plans to spend a long and happy retirement visiting bird reserves, fly fishing and cycling.