Remembering 50 years of Blair Drummond Safari Park

There was a vegetable cake topped with a strawberry treat for the lemurs and barbary macaques plus a parcel full of mealworms for the meerkats as Blair Drummond Safari Park celebrated its 50th anniversary today.

These giraffes were among the first attractions at Blair Drummond when it opened in May 1970.
These giraffes were among the first attractions at Blair Drummond when it opened in May 1970.

While the main celebration of the milestone year was put on hold given the lockdown, a few keepers and their charges at the park were able to enjoy the occasion at the attraction with the little party broadcast to thousands of viewers on social media instead.

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Park manager Gary Gilmour said: “It has just been so surreal with the great weather we have been having and no visitors around to enjoy what should have been a great day.”

Barbary Macaques enjoy a special vegetable cake to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Blair Drummond Safari Park. PIC: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
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Mr Gilmour recalled the first days of the safari park when it was only £1 per car to get in and the queues stretched for nine miles.”

He added: “We had three lion reserves and the monkey jungle reserve. It was a bit like Russian roulette taking your car around the monkeys then, everyone remembers when their granddad’s prized car was ambushed by a rogue group of monkeys and then leaving the reserve minus a car aerial or wiper blade.

“Then customers were able to walk or have a picnic on the lawns in front of the big house, where our giraffes and zebras roamed.

There was also cake for chimps Fred and Betsy when they celebrated their birthday back in 1979. PIC: TSPL.

“It could get a wee bit scary when a 18ft giraffe decide to go off on a gallop across the lawns. That was all before health and safety came along.”

When it first opened its gates on May 15, 1970, Blair Drummond was the only safari park in Scotland and just the third in the UK.

It was set up by landowner and tea magnate Sir John Muir and circus boss Jimmy Chipperfield, who was already running Woburn and Longleat safari parks when he made his first venture into Scotland. The park, which cost around £3.8m a today’s values to set up, became an instant hit with a traffic jam right back into Stirling on the first Sunday it was open.

This weekend, all is quiet at the 160-acre site where a few keepers have been retained during the pandemic to insure the animals are safe and well.

The rhino breeding programme is among one of the highlights of the past 50 years at the safari park.

Today, a pride of lions including two cubs , Barbary macaques from Gibraltar and Scotland’s only herd of giraffes are among its residents.

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Hector Muir, the grandson of founder Sir John, took over as director of the park following the retirement of his father, Jamie, in 2014.

His father set up the safari “when things were tight financially” with Blair Drummond going on to become one of the most popular privately-owned visitor attractions in Scotland, with 250,000 visitors every year.

“He had an interest in animals and he really like the idea. It was quite an entrepreneurial thing to do back in the day, when a safari park was really quite a new concept. Today, it is a really well know business in Scotland. People are connected to it and it has a good heritage. It’s like Tunnock’s Teacakes.”

The Blair Drumond lion enclosure remains one of the star attractions with the 2019 birth of two cubs - Faith and Hope - one of the highlights of recent times. PIC: TSPL.

Mr Muir frequently visited the park as a boy when it was in the hands of his uncle and said it was like spending time in “paradise”.

“You could come here and run for miles. It was always slightly mythical when you arrived. It was so exciting,” he added. One of his personal highlights of recent years had been the rhino breeding programme and the park becoming a member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which had allowed for such programmes - and animals swaps with other institutions - to take place.

“When you join Biaza you are taken seriously and it really opens up more doors,” Mr Muir added.

The other key moment was the birth of two lion cubs, Hope and Faith, in 2019, he added.

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Despite the lockdown, the lion cubs continue to be a huge draw for the public, with 15,000 people a day trying to catch a glimpse of the creatures on the safari park webcam.

A message from the Editor:

Park Manager Gary Gilmour with the zebras.

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