ESSEX animal lovers often flock to the north of the county to visit Colchester Zoo nowadays, but south Essex also had a thriving zoo until shortly after the turn of the century.

Basildon Zoo, based on Vange’s London Road, was home to a range of mammals, birds and reptiles when it originally opened its doors in 1973.

It was not unusual for families to head to the attraction for a memorable day out, while it was also a popular destination for school trips back in the day.

Animal lovers spent days and hours staring at fascinating creatures ranging from slippery snakes to roaring lions.


Roar - the king of the jungle marks his territory after a new lion enclosure was built in 1985

There was something for all animal enthusiasts, with monitor lizards, brightly coloured parrots and cheeky monkeys also being found at Basildon Zoo.

Guests at one of south Essex’s biggest attractions before the millennium were even treated to meet and greet sessions, with youngsters able to hold and interact with their favourite creatures.

The meet and greet sessions were also ideal for those looking to face their fears.


Taking a closer look - Laura Sullivan with a Boa Constrictor in 1992

But it wasn’t just exotic animals and creatures on display at Basildon Zoo - there was even a miniature railway for train enthusiasts.


So-called train spotters would spend just as long watching the intricate train sets steam around the site as young children would look at the lions.


Playful pair - a pair of lynx get up close and personal at Basildon Zoo in 1991

But all of the fun came to an end in 2001, when the zoo closed its gates for the final time.

The closure came after the zoo faced complaints and protestors about the conditions of the animals.

However, Basildon Zoo has not been totally forgotten by the community as a pet shop and garden centre remains on the site.


Got the hump - Bob Hands and Don Marshall with a camel in 1982

Join us on a trip down memory lane by joining our ‘We grew up in Essex’ Facebook group. If you have old photos and stories to share with our readers, simply complete our online form.

Scroll down to see more snaps from Basildon Zoo.


Exploring her new surroundings - Una the lioness eyes our photographer in 1985


Upside down - Michelle Surcouf with Captain the Blue and Yellow Macaw in 1988


On the lookout - Pugsley the otter at Basildon Zoo in 1992


Cheeky monkey - Darren Cockrill with a White Fronted Capuchin 10 years before Basildon Zoo’s closure


Cuddles - Michelle Surcouf took full advantage of the popular meet and greet sessions on offer at the zoo