Marvel’s Amusement Park in Scarborough had a former life – as Scarborough Zoo and Marineland.
Above: Postcard depicting Scarborough Zoo and Marineland (source)
The zoo was open between 1969 and 1984, and was home to a vast collection of exotic animals. These included dolphins, sea lions, a snake pit, an elephant, wolves, bear cubs, llamas, squirrels and an aviary. There were also chickens, rats, mice and squirrels.
Above: Newspaper clip detailing the attraction (source)
Many of the animals endured long journeys to reach the attraction – the dolphins originally came from the US, and one homesick sea lion escaped into the North Sea for three weeks before being returned to the zoo, not long after his initial arrival. There is however some debate as to the truth of this story.
The sea lion in question – ‘Sammy’ – also had a companion named Samantha – like the dolphins they were recruited to perform in regular shows across the summer season. Pictures show packed audiences during the zoo’s heyday in the 1970s.
Above: The dolphin show (source)
The Zoo was certainly an ambitious and popular attraction – it didn’t just feature animals. There were dinosaurs too, although these were made from fibreglass, and remained when the Zoo became Marvel’s. So too did Main Street – a feature inspired by Disneyland.
Above: Main Street during the Zoo era (from the author’s collection)
Below: A somewhat grander Main Street in Disneyland Paris (source)
The addition of a Big Dipper in 1973 gave the Zoo a further thrill factor – the ride was bought by Knowsley Safari Park in 1999. However, pre-1984, Scarborough Marineland and Zoo was perhaps best known for its diverse collection of animals. Nowadays animal welfare is a more pertinent issue, and this in part explains the closure of many smaller zoos – ill equipped to deal with the complex needs of their animals. The idea of a chimpanzees’ tea party for instance (a staple entertainment feature during the years of Scarborough Zoo) would perhaps be seen as demeaning and exploitative today, although performing animals still exist in selected shows and venues across the UK.
Above: A chimpanzees’ tea party – not from Scarborough – such attractions were once very popular (source)
In this video interview by Scarborough News, founder Don Robinson also describes the role of better nature programming, both on TV and online, plus a greater willingness to travel to bigger regional zoos with superior facilities and collections, as reasons behind the decline of local zoos.
The redevelopment of Scarborough Marineland and Zoo into Marvel’s was a bid to move with the times – by changing the focus from animals to rides and amusements, the site kept drawing visitors for nearly twenty more years. Again, today’s public are more mobile, and willing to travel to bigger attractions such as nearby Flamingo Land, which, coincidentally, Don Robinson was also involved with.
Do you remember Scarborough Zoo? Are any of the above details incorrect? Comments welcome below!
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