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Peter Cookson-Dean has worked at Walton Hall and Gardens Children’s Zoo since 1982.
To celebrate Peter’s dedication to his job for the past 40 years, a plaque has been installed at the entrance to the Children’s Zoo at Walton Hall and Gardens in his honour.
Peter began his career at Walton after gaining experience working at other local zoos and was instrumental in creating the Children’s Zoo loved by so many today.
When he arrived at Walton, the zoo consisted of a single row of old aviaries where the zoo entrance now stands and, over the years, it has been extended to house many different animals.
Highlights of Peter’s career at Walton so far include him hand-rearing BoBo the donkey in the kitchen at his home until he was strong enough to move to his own home at the zoo.
Peter has also introduced many new species to the zoo such as the herdwick sheep and pot-bellied pigs, alongside the introduction of Walton’s red squirrel breeding programme, which supports the national efforts to protect native reds.
Walton’s three resident alpacas – Jim, Topaz and Mally – were also brought to the zoo and are cared for by Peter. They enjoy regular walks around the estate with visitors which was another one of Peter’s ideas to make the zoo more accessible to the public.
Peter said: “From a young age, I always wanted to work with animals. I started as a zookeeper for several different zoos and safari parks before joining Warrington Borough Council when I was 21 years old to help develop the zoo at Walton.
"I always had a close bond with animals and have had many pets at home, so working with many different animals every day is wonderful and is quite possibly the reason why I have never had a day off sick in the 40 years that I’ve worked at Walton!
“I’ve always said that the day I don’t look forward to coming to work is the day I should leave, and I can’t see that happening anytime soon!”
Peter works closely with students from Myerscough College, which has a campus on the estate, providing them with learning opportunities and first-hand experience to support their animal studies programme.
He thoroughly enjoys passing his knowledge onto the next cohort of zoo rangers and the hundreds of students and volunteers that have worked and studied at the zoo. Many students have since gone on to further studies and successful careers.
Peter has also supported many young people with disabilities, having worked closely with Walton Lea Partnership to provide supported learning opportunities at the zoo. As a result, Peter was presented with a positive action award by Warrington Disability Partnership.
To honour Peter’s work with students and partners, the team at Walton Hall and Gardens have worked in partnership with Myerscough College to launch the Peter Cookson-Dean award, which will be given to a student each year for outstanding achievement in animal care.
Cllr Tony Higgins, cabinet member for leisure and community, said: “Peter is known for his dedication to his job and the love he has for the animals in his care. He works tirelessly to ensure the animals are safe and well, including making sure he’s around to safely help with the birth of many baby goat kids over the years.
"Peter and the team have put a huge amount of work into the zoo over the years, making it a much-loved place for families to visit, from many different generations.
“We all have such warm memories of Walton Hall and Gardens and the Children’s Zoo in particular, which is largely down to the hard work and dedication from Peter over the years. It really is the jewel in Warrington's crown!”
For more information about the Children’s Zoo at Walton Hall and Gardens, visit waltonhallgardens.co.uk/childrens-zoo.