AS we enter the first few days of 2022, Dalton zoo is looking back at the challenges and achievements of the past year - and praising the 'fabulous' community support.

South Lakes Safari Zoo has shared its highs and lows of 2021 in a year plagued by uncertainties posed by the pandemic.

Sam Brewer, of South Lakes Safari Zoo, said she is 'so proud' of the zoo's achievements in the past 12 months and said they only have the supporters to thank.

She said: "The year started as the last began with the whole uncertainty of the pandemic.

"Like everywhere else we had to close to try to stop the spread of the virus with 1,200 animals depending on our care. We rely on money from visitors to feed our animals and for our keepers to keep looking after them.

"It costs over £100,000 a month to look after everything and where you can scrimp and save on some things animal welfare, food, heating and care isn’t one of them.

"But money aside we had some fabulous support, both locally, through our 'lives', from our members and just an immense feeling of being completely 'propped up' and for that we are, and always will be, eternally grateful."

Ms Brewer said it has been 'particularly poignant and emotional' to improve an animal enclosure last year.

She said: "The animal’s reactions to a lack of visitors to educate and engage were interesting and varied; our keepers had to find creative ways of keeping every resident stimulated and, very interestingly, the animals definitely picked up on the change in number of human faces they saw during lockdown and began interacting more with each other, and with non-keeping staff who were onsite – and with keepers from other sections.

"The opening of our new Andean Bear and Howler monkey house in early 2022 will be a milestone in a project which cost over £100k, and visitors will see one of the best indoor bear facilities in the UK.

"More importantly the Bears and Howlers will have access to enjoy their new indoor areas all constructed and designed with the animal’s natural history at its core.

"And will represent the first of what hopefully is many to come.

"It is always particularly poignant and emotional for the team here when we are able to improve any of the enclosures and/houses, and this one certainly tugged on a few heartstrings, especially being able to achieve this in the middle of the constraints and challenges of the pandemic."

Ms Brewer added that the team have had some 'difficult lows' but are looking ahead to this year.

"We have lost some familiar faces this year and that is always immensely difficult," she said.

"We have had some difficult lows but we ended the year on good news - a very poorly Kangaroo - Jalapeno who after almost a year’s observation and care from her amazing team has been given a clean bill of health from the vets.

"We are part of breeding programmes so the animals are playing a major part in conserving their species for the future; having a back up generation to support species in the wild threatened by extinction.

"In December 2021 White Rhino Zahara, born here in 2017, moved onto Marwell Zoo under the programme, but the crash welcomed two new members as we celebrated the births of calves Azeeza and Iniko."

"One of our high points is the ongoing relationship with Indy the Dogs for the wild detection dog.

"We have seen Indy over the year progress from a young puppy training in the rhino and Africa pens here at the zoo to be ready to be deployed (as soon as Covid permits) into the South African reserves to protect these animals in the wild."

"Other high points this year included: the red panda cub births and the renewed funding and connection with the red panda forest guardian in Nepal, the funding of lion guardian in Africa another silent extinction, £21,000 was raised for GCF fund giraffe conservation in the wild, a whopping £25,000 was raised for the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary and the target was met to fund the transportation of Bushmeat Detection Dog Indy on her way to Mankwe Wildlife Reserve.

"We are ever so proud to have been able to achieve all of this within a year, and not just any year – a year with so many challenges and uncertainties posed by the pandemic. And for that we only have our supporters to thank.

"Look out for 2022 as we launch our 'you can change the world' campaign where we will be asking you all to dig deep to recycle your cans up here at the zoo where we will turn that can income into funds purely destined to support Indy as she arrives in South Africa and the reserve to which she is going each and every one of us.

"We also have some very exciting new arrivals planned so keep watching this space."