Paradise Wildlife Park’s journey from “UK’s worst zoo” to one of Europe’s best


Paradise Wildlife Park has come a long way since the current owners took over what was known as Broxbourne Zoo in the early 1980s.

The old Broxbourne Zoo was known for its poor animal facilities and was often referred to as “Britain’s worst zoo”.

It was owned by Cyril Stamp until the mid-1970s, then by Peter Phipps until 1984.

But after that, the Sampson family came to take over the zoo. In doing so, they completely transformed it from one of the worst zoos to one of the best in Europe.

They saved its reputation and built the foundation for Paradise Wildlife Park – a place many of us love and enjoy today and we can’t wait to return when restrictions allow.

However, the transformation did not come without difficulties.

It’s the story of how a family helped save a deteriorating zoo and made it one of Hertfordshire’s best attractions.

What happened when the Sampsons took over?

Aerial view of Broxbourne Zoo in 1978

Due to the appalling conditions left behind, the Sampsons had to completely renovate the park in order to comply with the strict Zoo Licensing Act of 1981.

Government inspectors visited and it was agreed that the best way forward would be to close the park so urgent work can be done. The site closed on Christmas Day 1984, abruptly ending the era of Broxbourne Zoo.

Fast forward a few months to July 1985 and the East Herts District Council granted a zoo license. At Easter 86, Paradise Park and Woodland Zoo opened for the first time.

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Further work continued over the following years and the name of the site changed to Paradise Wildlife Park in the early 1990s.

The unveiling of “Tiger Lodge” – a new enclosure specially designed for Bengal and Siberian tigers in 1994 – was perhaps the owners’ biggest statement of intent and a sign of a bright future under their leadership.

The plans were put on hold as the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in the spring of 2001 temporarily closed the park.

But other improvements were made to bring the zoo into the 21st century, soon making it one of the continent’s most respected small animal parks.

Peter Sampson poses Hara the Snow Leopard alongside daughter Lynn Whitnall and sons Aaron, Tyler and Cameron

The site is still run by the family and Peter Sampson’s daughter, Lynn Whitnall, is now the site’s CEO and Trustee and lives in the park.

His three sons Tyler, Cameron and Aaron have been involved in the project for as long as they can remember.

Aaron explained how it has been an incredible transformation since the “dark days” at Broxbourne Zoo.

“To put it simply, Paradise today is an entirely new place for the dilapidated zoo the family bought in 1984,” he said.

The old paying cabin at Paradise Wildlife Park

“We have gone from owning Britain’s worst zoo to operating one of Europe’s best small zoos, known for its high animal welfare standards.

“In addition to what we have achieved on site in the park, we have also donated millions of dollars through our work with a number of important scientists, vets and conservationists around the world to help protect countless wild species and habitats in the wild.

“We have big plans for the future and look forward to continuing to create an animal park that everyone is proud to have in the county of Hertfordshire.”

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The park has a strong global conservation presence, and earlier this year Aaron traveled to Uganda to donate the country’s first-ever wildlife ambulance.

This will allow rangers and national parks there to transport injured animals that have been caught in poachers’ snares.

The Zoological Society of Hertfordshire is the park’s registered charity, with funds raised going to support wildlife conservation projects in the UK and around the world.

Its sister site, the Big Cat Sanctuary, is in Kent.

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