Kilverstone Wildlife Park and Latin American Zoo

Updated 24th April 2017

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Kilverstone Latin American Wildlife Park (sometimes known as Kilverstone New World Zoo) was opened on April 1st 1973 by the comedian Frank Muir.

Set in the sprawling grounds of Kilverstone Hall in Norfolk, the home of the late Lord John Vavasseur Fisher and his second wife, Lady Rosamund, younger daughter of Lord Clifford of Chudleigh.

The estate dates back to the time of Edward the Confessor and became the property of William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings. It remained in the property of the Crown until Henry 1 gave it to William de Albany who presented it to the Priory of Monks in Thetford and the house was known as Monks Hall for many years.

After the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 – 39) by Henry V111 Thomas Wright bought the Manor of Kilverstone and the adjoining Manor of Coxford in 1585 and in 1620 he built the original Hall on the site of the older Monks Hall.

Mr Vavasseur bought Kilverstone in 1895 and having no heir he left the property to Cecil, 2nd Baron Fisher, son of his friend Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher, with whom he had worked building and arming Britain’s modern Navy.
As a midshipman, the Admiral had first gone to sea on H.M.S. Calcutta as part of the fleet blockading the Baltic Sea in 1854 during the Crimean War. Subsequently he was attached to her in many appointments up to the rank of Commodore and in 1872 when she was attached to H.M.S. Excellent, the naval gunnery school, he started the Torpedo branch.

The Board of Admiralty kindly sold the figurehead, nameplate and many of the timbers of this fine ship to Cecil, 2nd Baron Fisher, in 1922 when she was broken up after 90 years in the Service. The figurehead was set up at the bottom of the Admiral's Walk in the flamingo garden near the boathouse.
The weather and time had rotted the beautiful teak wood from which the figurehead was carved. However it was expertly repaired and is now safely painted and protected from the rain. The Calcutta was one of a class of four ships built in Bombay and she was presented to Queen Victoria by Sir Jamset Geegeegeboy, a well loved and honoured Parsee Baronet.

This unusual and very large figurehead is probably the largest in existence and it now resides at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.



The Calcutta figurehead in the grounds of Kilverstone Wildlife Park - c. 1990

Cecil, 2nd Baron Fisher, laid out the gardens, and planted one million trees on Kilverstone Estate, helped and encouraged by Lady Fisher, who was the daughter of Randal Morgan of Philadelphia. Before their marriage Lord Fisher had spent 15 years in the Indian Civil Service where his final appointment, before being invalided home, was as a Judge in the District Court at Darjeeling, the famous tea growing area just south of the Himalayas.



Kilverstone Hall 1980

Photo: Susan Eckholdt

Although neither of the Fishers had any special training and (as Lady Fisher put it in her memoir ‘My Jungle Babies’) only “romantic notions” about what running a zoo would involve, they decided to specialize in the wildlife of South America, a region which, they felt,
had been neglected by other establishments.
In fact Kilverstone was the only zoo outside America to specialize in Latin American Animals.

KILVERSTONE ZOO BADGES

Kilverstone Wildlife Park badges



Lord and Lady Fisher with Rudolph the maned wolf.

Photo: Frank Manning

Over the next 18 years the Fishers built up a collection of over 800 animals, and established Kilverstone as an internationally recognized centre for breeding and rearing endangered species such as tamarins, spider monkeys and marmosets.
Many animals were hand-reared. A jaguar born in 1977 was taken into the house, kept in a basket by the Fisher’s bed and even accompanied them to Royal Ascot in order not to miss its three-hourly feeds.




BABY KINKAJOU AND BABY SQUIRREL MONKEY AT KILVERSTONE

Baby Kinkajou and baby Squirrel Monkey at Kilverstone.

photo: Photographers International

BABY OLINGO AT KILVERSTONE

Baby Olingo at Kilverstone.

photo: Photographers International

MARGAY AT KILVERSTONE

Margay at Kilverstone.

photo: Rod Williams

At the height of its success the zoo attracted some 160,000 visitors a year.

The most popular animals were the Falabella miniature horses from Argentina. Lord and Lady Fisher had first purchased two Falabellas from Argentina in 1977.

The Equuleus Falabella Stud was founded on six of Lord and Lady Fisher's Argentine imports (Menelek, Chico, Julio Cesar, Morenita, Pepita and Argentina) and the little mare imported by 'The News of the World': Falabella Al Graten.
For more information please visit the 'UK Archives' and 'Legends' and 'History' pages.


FALABELLAS CHICO AND ARGENTINA KILVERSTONE HALL

They visited Argentina the following year, selecting six from Sr Julio Cesar Falabella’s  ‘La Cautiva’ ranch.

Excerpt from Lady Fisher’s memoir ‘My Jungle Babies’:-

‘Now’, said Sr Falabella, I will take you to see the spotted stallion in your photograph.’ Down the great driveway flanked by phalanxes of eucalyptus trees, he led us to yet another field. And there was Menelek, the horse from the photograph.
‘That,’ said Sr Falabella , ‘is my best horse. He has fathered all the spotted horses you have seen on the ranch.’
‘He’s the one I want,’ I said instantly, ‘I simply must have him.’.....

FALABELLA MENELEK

Falabella Menelek

Photo: courtesy Lady Rosamund Fisher


‘We spent the rest of the day choosing two other stallions and three mares to take back with Menelek. Prize Falabellas, alas, do not come cheap.’

LORD AND LADY FISHER WITH FALABELLAS

Photo: courtesy Lady Rosamund Fisher

The Falabellas imported by the Fishers were:-

Falabella Chico (chestnut) imported 1977
Falabella Argentina (chestnut) imported 1977
Falabella Menelek (black leopard appaloosa) imported 1978
Falabella Julio Cesar (palomino) imported 1978
Falabella Carlos (chestnut pinto) imported 1978
Falabella Pepita (bright bay) imported 1978
Falabella Morenita (black snowflake appaloosa) imported 1978
Falabella Tobiana (bay pinto) imported 1978

And in 1979 the Fishers borrowed a tiny Falabella mare from Yorkshire on a breeding loan, returning her to her owner Helen Sutcliffe in 1981:-

 LADY FISHER FALABELLA AL GRATEN/MARINA AND JAMIE

Falabella Al Graten (black pintaloosa with blue eyes) imported
by ‘The News of the World’ in 1973

Photo: Lord John Fisher, courtesy Brenda Sutcliffe

This little mare had been offered as the main prize in a ‘The Sun’ newspaper competition.
Lady Fisher registered her with the name Marina as her birth name was unknown until 1990. For more information please see ‘UK Archives’ and ‘Legends’pages.

LADY FISHER WITH JAMIE OF KILVERSTONE

Photo: Raymond E Chaplin

MINIATURE HORSES AT KILVERSTONE

Miniature horses at Kilverstone in 1984.
Photo: courtesy Mrs Margaret Brown.

KILVERSTONEHORSEBRASS

Horse brasses (depicting the famous Falabella Menelek) that were on sale at the gift shop at Kilverstone Wildlife Park.

Lord and Lady Fisher sadly closed their internationally respected Kilverstone Wildlife Park after years of losses in late 1991.
The soaring costs of running a Latin-American zoo and employing 20 staff, became too great. Lord and Lady Fisher had refused to sell their Falabella horses within the UK prior to 1991 but a few were sold at that point.

KILVERSTONE CLOSURE

Photo: Susan Eckholdt

They went to live at Marklye in Rushlake Green, East Sussex, taking the remaining pure Falabella miniature horses and some part-bred Falabellas with them. They continued to breed these horses, selling them around the world, and during this time, sold several to HH The late King Hussein of Jordan who flew in to Marklye by helicopter in order to select them personally.

John Vavasseur Fisher was born on July 24th 1921. He attended Stowe and Trinity College, Cambridge. As the grandson of the famous Admiral of the Fleet, Lord (Jackie) Fisher, who was the First Sea Lord during the First World War, he served in motor torpedo boats during the second world war. In 1944, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for action involving German E Boats.

LORD JOHN FISHER WITH MARCUS

Lord Fisher with Marcus the tapir

Photo: Studio Five, Thetford

Rosamund Fisher, the younger daughter of Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, was brought up in Devon but evacuated to Australia during the war. There she lived on a sheep station in Victoria, married and had three children. Returning to England, she lived in Sussex before re-marrying to John in 1970.


LADY ROSAMUND FISHER WITH SPIDER MONKEY

Lady Fisher with orphan baby spider monkey Huggy Bear

Photo: Denis Jones, London Evening News


Kilverstone Miniature Railway

LNER 4472

LOCOMOTIVE ROBIN HOOD

LNER 4472 2

When Kilverstone Wildlife Park closed the Kilverstone Zoo Miniature Railway was auctioned off and went to Woburn.

The above photos show the locomotives being removed.

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