The Tropical Butterfly House, Falconry and Wildlife Park will celebrate its 25th anniversary on 23 March 2019, marking this milestone event with a variety of commemorative activities featured throughout the year.
This is a historic anniversary for the Sheffield wildlife park which first opened its doors in 1994. Despite being a well-known landmark for the local area, it’s visitors may not be aware of the attraction’s humble beginnings. When it first opened it was just the Butterfly house, a nature wildlife trail and a small shop and café.
The Butterfly House opened on a shoestring on 23 March 1994, during an economic depression with three employees, butterflies, peacocks, a tarantula spider and a snake followed by barn owls, an eagle owl and later in its first season, goats and chickens. Discovering in that very first year that the key to future success could be allowing its visitors to handle and get closer to the animals they love, this very same ethos remains it’s USP today.
Now renowned for its collection of exotic animals from around the world including many endangered species, the park offers its visitors daily up-close animal encounters and free-flying bird displays alongside views of the best of British wildlife. Visitor numbers have grown to over 150,000 per annum in 2018, with the park becoming licensed as a zoo in 1994. It’s 60+ strong team of dedicated staff work hard to help connect people with the animals, and in this way are helping to promote and conserve the natural world around us and beyond.
Alongside fundraising endeavours for worldwide endangered species, closer to home the park is an oasis for native wildlife. The purpose-built pond environments have attracted the likes of the great crested newt, the common newt, frog and toad a well as grass snakes. With over 100 nest boxes on site the park is also a refuge for a variety of birds including the tree sparrow, a red data species, which has successfully seen one breeding pair in 1998 grow to forty pairs last spring. It doesn’t stop there, the Tropical Butterfly House also owns three other conservations sites in South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and the Peak District, which are not open to the public but managed with wildlife in mind to help protect and encourage native species.
Having seen many changes to the wildlife park over the last 25 years there have been some memorable experiences along the way. The Lemur Heights enclosure was opened in summer 2013 by the late Barry Chuckle of The Chuckle Brothers, a much-missed visitor and supporter of the park. The enclosure took around six months to construct with the building work completed almost entirely by the dedicated staff and is now home to 7 ring-tailed lemurs and 3 red-ruffed lemurs.
A 20-year-old Caiman called Darwin holds the title of the park’s longest resident arriving in 1999. Darwin was 200m long and lived in a fish tank when he was brought to the centre and can still be seen here now with his partner Pedra.
Andrew Reeve, wildlife park manager, talks about the exciting journey so far:
“Since arriving as park manager eight years ago the park has constantly been changing and developing. We have grown from a 4.5 acre to 8-acre site, doubling our visitor numbers at the same time. Our collection has become more focused on endangered species, with lots of new species being added over the years, from lemurs and otters to vultures. This has driven our fundraising efforts, for example when the visitors see the lemurs here and learn about their story, they are essentially helping to raise funds for survival in their native wild habitat”.
Kim Bellis, managing director and the owner’s daughter has spent all her life at the park and will be taking over the reins says:
“As a family business we are all very proud of what the team have achieved here over the last 25 years. The legacy of my dad’s labour of love brings it back to where it all began, inspiring the next generation’s passion for nature. Now following the success of the park, he is now able to return to his passion for plants and animals and enjoy all the new challenges the new conservation sites will bring.”
The Tropical Butterfly House will be hosting a year-long celebration of silver anniversary activities including a birthday cake for the animals on its birthday weekend. The park’s social media platforms will share memorable stories from its visitors and staff from the past 25 years encouraging them to share their own #mybutterflymoment capturing the excitement of their hands-on experiences at the park.
The Tropical Butterfly House, Wildlife & Falconry Centre is open daily, all year round and is located just five minutes from the M1, junction 31, with free parking. See www.butterflyhouse.co.uk to plan your visit.
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