IT is 50 years since the sleepy little village of Marwell, in charming rural settings near Winchester, echoed to the sounds of the safari as exotic animals from across the world breathed life into the Hampshire countryside.

Each year, more than one million animal lovers pass through the gates, each looking to catch a glimpse of the wonderful creatures but few unaware of the important role the land has played throughout history.

Built in 1320, Marwell Hall is the building where Henry VIII is said to have married Jane Seymour.

Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft used the area during the Second World War as an airport to support the production of military aircraft at its Eastleigh plant.

The location was ideal as there were fewer test flight restrictions and the natural forest provided excellent camouflage.

Marwell Zoo founder John Knowles with Lena the tiger. July 1985. Southern Daily Echo Archives

Marwell Zoo founder John Knowles with Lena the tiger in July 1985.

The zoo, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, has developed into one of the country's best-loved attractions.

Founded by John Knowles, the zoo was primarily established as a conservation and breeding centre where various endangered species could be kept in spacious surroundings while offering its visitors the chance to see rare and interesting animals in a picturesque English country park.

Even in its infancy, the zoo offered an impressive collection of animals which included the almost extinct Siberian tiger as well as one of the world’s largest groups of scimitar-horned Oryx.

On May 22, 1972, Marwell opened its gates for the first time, charging an entrance fee of 30p for adults and 20p for children.

Heritage. David ASTON WITH BABY ZEBRA, MArwell Zoo, 1976

David Aston with a baby zebra in 1976.

During the years which followed, the zoo witnessed many successful breeding programmes which included tigers, cheetahs and various other endangered species.

But one particularly sad event in Marwell’s history served to heighten Marwell’s notoriety.

In 1977, Marwell attracted worldwide attention when one of its giraffes, Victor, fell over and was unable to get up.

The initial media attention was one of amusement of a giraffe who was believed to have slipped while trying to mate but, as the days passed, there were serious concerns for Victor’s welfare.

HERITAGE. Victor the giraffe at Marwell Zoo. 20/9/77.#

Victor the giraffe on September 20, 1977.

Victor remained on the ground for six days despite valiant attempts to lift him and his plight became front page news as far away as South America and the Middle East.

Sadly later Victor died with his head on the shoulder of John Knowles, suffering a heart attack as a result of stress due to the trauma.

The zoo also faced trying times in 2001 when the country was affected by foot-and-mouth disease.

The zoo was forced to close for five weeks, plunging it into a financial crisis with its long-term future looking bleak.

Meerkat fun, Marwell Wildlifes Party in the Park fortieth birthday event Friday 1st June 2012

Meerkat fun at Marwell's Party in the Park 40th birthday event in 2012.

The Daily Echo launched the Animal Magic Campaign, which raised more than £127,000 and helped save the zoo from permanent closure.

The support the zoo received was very different from the response it received when Marwell was proposed.

More than 1,000 people were against the plan then, but the whole of Hampshire pulled together when the zoo was threatened with closure and helped to save a treasure the region has grown extremely fond of.

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